Strength in numbers

By Steve Browne

MARSHALL – Marshall fire fighters put on a cookout for Sounds of Summer on Saturday to raise money for the upcoming 125th anniversary celebration of the Marshall Fire Department in 2015.

For comparison’s sake, that means the Marshall Fire Department has been in continuous existence longer than six American states and as long as two. And like 73 percent of all firefighters across the nation, they are all volunteers.

But volunteer does not mean amateur.

According to Marshall Fire Chief Marc Klaith, every man devotes each Tuesday evening to training. The 12 officers have an additional meeting a month, not to mention the additional courses available on various aspects of fire service.

That adds up to a lot of time for men with full-time jobs and families to support.

“I think I can speak for all of them,” Klaith said. “It’s community service. It’s enough fulfillment for all of us.”

The time commitment has to be a strain on families, and the way the department deals with it is to involve families in the culture of fire fighting with events such as Saturday’s cookout.

“Our motto is, ‘Our family protecting your family,'” Klaith said.

Klaith and fire fighter Ray Henriksen both have 27 years of service. Josh Goergen is a relative newcomer with six years of service.

“It’s just giving back to the community and being part of something special,” Goergen said.

And maybe it also has something to do with your kids knowing daddy is a hero. Goergen has three, aged 8, 4, and 2.

“They love it,” Goergen said. “They get to go to events like this and get to ride a firetruck every once in a while.”

In an organization as old as the MFD with personnel as committed, there is a fairly steady turnover as veterans retire.

“We continue to put guys on,” said Tom Cundy, 10-year veteran. “We put on four last year, and we’re looking to put four on this year. It’s an easy way to give back to the community, and the community very much appreciates it. You can tell by the turnout here.”

Minimum age for a volunteer fire fighter is 18; there is no maximum age as long as you’re in shape and can do the job. And though the job has its obvious dangers, Klaith said they’ve never lost a man.

“They’re really well-trained,” Klaith said. “We have great equipment, and the guys are really knowledgeable. The equipment has come so far, we didn’t have thermal imaging equipment when I came on. And the building codes have changed too.”

Klaith said they like to keep strength up to 43 or 45, and anticipate as many as 18 retirements within the next few years.