Fire Department Bonds with Community to the Benefit of Both

Fire Department Bonds with Community to the Benefit of Both

On the northeast side of Des Moines where I grew up, our neighbor to the north was remarkable for a few reasons, most notably was that he was a fireman for the Des Moines Fire Department. After his retirement, a big red pumper would stop by on occasion after a fire or rescue call for its occupants to say hello to their retired family member. They would stop the rig like they were pulling up in the family station wagon, leap out in their gear and then sit on the stoop telling stories while our neighbors’ wife brought out iced tea. That’s an impression that a young boy is not likely to forget.

It’s no wonder then that I was equally impressed when I attended my first Ida Grove Fire Department fundraiser barbeque twenty years ago when daughter Sam was a toddler. We went at the urging of fellow teacher Jane O’Tool who told me all about the barbeque and the fire truck rides for the kids. After eating, my daughter and I must have ridden all of the three firetrucks a couple times each. It was great fun for a first grader and her dad.

But much has changed now that my daughter is 25 years old and eyeing a family of her own! More for consideration, then, is how much has advanced since 44-year veteran Don Wunschel joined the department in 1972. Wunchel who is currently IGFD Safety Officer recalls his own children, Kriss, 48, Matt, 47, and Donavon, 44, riding the trucks when they were knee-high to a grasshopper.

“I really like looking out for the well-being of these young guys,” said Wunschel. “They listen when I tell them to get out of an unsafe situation.” Wunschel is well-aware that many of the department’s 21 volunteers have a family that depends upon their safety.

As Wunschel and I continue to talk, Fireman Rick Wonder gives kids rides in the antique fire truck while son-in-law and Fireman Jeremie Reitz grills burgers for their department’s annual event, this year raising money for gear that meets National Fire Protection Agency standards. The bell ringing from the truck is familiar in neighborhoods from years’ passed.

Scott Van Dusen is Ida Grove Fire Department’s Fire Chief. “We’ve just ordered $18,000 worth of gear that will fit and protect our volunteers,” said Van Dusen who has been on the force for 20 years. “City taxes will help to pay for $6000 dollars of it, but the balance – S12,000  – will come from fundraising.”

Van Dusen is no stranger to raising funds for the department; he’s been involved in doing so for most of his tenure. The three main fundraisers have been the Stag, Halloween Dance, and the fall barbeque.

“The Stag used to be the best money-maker,” stated Van Dusen. “The barbeque has caught up to it not just because of the crowds that come, many people dropping $100 or more into our donation box, but also due to the incredibly supportive businesses. Twenty-nine businesses donated funds and a dozen businesses donated the food, charcoal, plates, napkins, and utensils.”

At last week’s event, the firemen grilled 250 hot dogs, 300 pork burgers, and 500 hamburgers. Those that attended supper consumed all of that grilled fare plus 18 gallons of baked beans and 32 bags of potato chips. “People come for the food and stay for the fire truck rides and social event,” said Van Dusen.

This year the Mercy Medical Helicopter was on site for a tour. In the past, the department has demonstrated equipment – such as the life-saving Jaws-of-Life – to show how important community giving is to their efforts.

Still, it’s the volunteers that make the department what it is said long-timer, Don Wunschel. “We are at 21 members at this time. We would really like to have 25 to 28.” The city allows 30, which Wunschel said is a good goal.

And to this end, the department has a Junior Firefighter program which to no surprise is an extension of the family fortress fostered by the department. Members include Blake and Tyler Anderson, son of Fireman (RET.) Fred Anderson; Dakota Porter, daughter of Fireman Mike Porter; and Anna Van Dusen, daughter of Fire Chief Scott Van Dusen. Fireman Nate Holman and Ryan Jacobsen both began as Junior Firemen.

“We are very lucky,” concluded Chief Van Dusen. “When we go to businesses for support… when we ask the community to back us up… we get their backing, no questions asked. People know us, and we know them, and we are there for each other.”


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