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Blencoe builds new home for fire department

By Jody Ewing
Journal Correspondent
May 23, 2004

  Photo by Jody Ewing

The Blencoe, Iowa Volunteer Fire Department has a new home in the community. Blencoe Fire Chief Ed Osius poses next to one of the trucks inside the structure.

BLENCOE, Iowa – On Christmas Eve in 1998, the Blencoe Volunteer Fire Department faced a disaster. A train with the Union Pacific Railroad derailed at 6 a.m., overturning an anhydrous tank and spewing out 40,000 gallons of anhydrous.

Nearly five years later, the Blencoe Fire Department found itself facing another type of crisis – it needed a new pumper truck. The present fire station wasn’t large enough to house it. That’s when 231 residents decided they’d work together to build a fire station first and then get the new pumper.

After raising $60,557 toward a $75,000 goal, they built and moved into the new 42-by-72-foot four-bay station Dec. 7.

“It has a meeting room, two bathrooms and a storage area,” says Fire Chief Ed Osius, a veteran of the fire department since 1971 and chief for nearly two decades. “Also, for the first time ever, we will be able to fill the fire trucks inside the fire station without going to the city water tower. As more donations come in we will finish the meeting room, finish the bathrooms, install automatic door openers and also do landscaping.”

Expenditures thus far have totaled $66,877. The money needed to add the bathrooms, including all the fixtures, was received through a memorial fund for the late Larry Ruffcorn, a Blencoe volunteer firefighter who died in October.

Ruffcorn’s widow, Kristie, who serves as Blencoe’s mayor and as a volunteer firefighter herself, says it only seems appropriate to have the funds go for the rest-rooms.

“We didn’t have a bathroom in the old building and we often joked about how much easier the men always had it,” she says. She then smile and says, “The women’s bathroom is the largest.”

The department consists of 17 fire personnel, including 12 certified as Firefighter 1.

New vehicles overdue

While the finishing touches for the fire station hinge on additional donations, city leaders remain focused on meeting their next set of goals.

“We’d been in a converted gas station since 1952, and the new, modern trucks wouldn’t fit in it,” says Osius. “Now that we have a fire station that will accommodate large apparatus (trucks), we will aggressively seek formal funding to replace our older equipment.”

The new vehicles are long overdue. Currently, the city’s two trucks include a 1962 International 1,000 gallon tanker/pumper with a 300-gallon per minute pump, and a 1968 International 750 gallon pumper with a 350-gallon per minute pump. With the help of federal, city and township funding, the department hopes to add a 4-wheel drive pick-up with a slide-on pumper for grass fires and a new 1,250 gallons per minute pumper on an International chassis.

“We need at least one new tanker pumper,” says Training Officer Charlie Hitchman. “At one time we were ahead of the game. We had the first guys certified in the area, the whole works. Now, we have 1962 and 1968 fire trucks. The ’62 has been epoxied once, had a new pump put in, and it’s rusted out. Most of them don’t go this far. It won’t last much longer.”

The Blencoe Fire Department is requesting $162,000 through the Firefighting Vehicle Acquisition Program to help buy the new pumper. The fire department and the City of Blencoe will leverage requested grant funds with an additional $18,000 to facilitate the purchase of the vehicle, which is estimated to cost $180,000.

Acquisition of the new pumper will enable the fire department to meet statutory requirements and afford basic firefighter safety.

“The new pumper will allow the fire department to properly store fire fighting tools and equipment on the fire pumper itself,” says Osius. “Currently, much of the equipment is stored in the firehouse and is put on the pumper as needed for each individual fire.”

Additionally, the new pumper would carry five fire personnel safely to the scene and have the air packs in the back seats built in. The two present pumpers will carry only two fire personnel each, requiring other fire personnel to use their own vehicles to get to the scene.

Additional Funding Sources

For the 4-wheel drive pick-up, the city has filed an application for assistance through USDA Rural Development. Of the estimated $35,575 total cost, roughly $16,000 would be funded from the city of Blencoe as well as both Sherman and Sioux Townships.

“We did receive a Volunteer Fire Assistance grant for $1,276 from Title IV Funds,” says Osius. “This is an Iowa DNR grant program where the 50 percent matching funds came from Iowa rather than the feds. We bought eight more pairs of Nomex coveralls, eight goggles, eight pairs of gloves and eight hard hats. This is for the control of timber, grass and wild land fires.”

According to city clerk Sue Cutler, the Blencoe Fire Department protects the City of Blencoe, Sherman Township and the west half of Sioux Township. Seven miles of interstate and seven miles of railroad are included in the coverage.

“Our department covers approximately 55 square miles and a total population primary response of 360 residents,” says Cutler, who has completed training at Western Iowa Tech Community College to comply and report to NFIRS. “It also provides mutual aid to the Little Sioux Fire Department in Harrison County, the Little Sioux Scout Ranch of 1,800 acres, and the Woodland Camp Village that has 1,200 year-round camping units.”

Mutual aid also is provided to the Moorhead Fire Department and the city of Onawa.

Blencoe presently has a Class 8 ISO rating, and if the city were to lose its fire department, the rating would go to a Class 9, increasing insurance premiums by about 25 percent.

“It’s something a lot of folks don’t realize,” says Osius.

A soup supper and pie auction every November raised $10,000, which Hitchman said went for coats, hats and other needed gear.



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