Ozark County’s good-neighbor VFD named Missouri Fire Department of Year

Members of the Howell County Rural Fire District #1 were congratulated May 8 by West Plains Fire Chief Roy Sims and Missouri State Fire Marshal Tim Bean, who attended a firehouse gathering to celebrate the department’s being named the Missouri Fire Department of the Year on May 5 during the 2018 Firefighter Association of Missouri convention in St. Joseph. Front row, from left: firefighter Jared Chapman (seated), junior firefighter Edward Heuchelin, Sims, HCRFD Chief Joe Auffert, Bean and HCRFD administrative officer Christel Cantrell. Second row: board president Joe Bean, board member Leon York, firefighter Jerry Wirtz, board vice president Doyle Surritte, Captain Verlin Bunch, Assistant Chief Chris Wilbanks, firefighter Joey Smith, firefighter Jack Romans and firefighter Gary LeRoux. Not pictured: Lt. Lee Arthurs, firefighters Daniel Dennis, David Hubbard and Scott McNichols, and secretary Tiffany Dugan. HCRFD responds automatically and in mutual aid when needed to Ozark County’s east-side volunteer fire departments at Bakersfield, Caulfield, Dora and Tecumseh.

Howell County Rural Fire District #1, which responds in mutual aid to Ozark County’s east-side fire departments, including Bakersfield, Caulfield, Dora and Tecumseh, was named Missouri Fire Department of the year at the Firefighters Association of Missouri Convention May 8 in St. Joseph.

Chief Joe Auffert told the Times Monday it was “quite an honor” to be selected for the award. The FFAM website says the award honors one “career, combination or volunteer fire department/district” that best exemplifies fire service leadership “through commitment to excellence, progressiveness and service to their community.”

HCRFC, established in 1982, is a “combination” district with a total of 14 firefighters, including three full-time personnel, three board members and a secretary. It responds frequently to Ozark County fires and other emergencies, Auffert said Monday. “In fact, we just got a call this morning from over there. It was canceled before we got there, but whenever they need us, we come runnin’,” he said. Aufert said the department responded to more than 800 calls in 2017. 

In her nomination letter for the award, district administrative officer Christel Cantrell noted that the district’s call volume “has steadily increased” in the last two years. “December 2017, we had over 100 calls. That is our record for a one-month period,” Cantrell wrote. 

In its 36 years, Howell County Rural has grown from being an all-volunteer, one-station district with four vehicles to its present status as a combination career/volunteer department with two stations (one inside the West Plains city limits and the other at Highways KK and 160 in South Fork) with two pumpers, a pumper/tanker, two tankers, three brush trucks, a mini pumper, a rescue pumper and two smaller rescue trucks as well as a truck that carries a “cascade” unit allowing firefighters to refill their self-contained breathing apparatus at a fire scene.

The district’s auxiliary actively supports the district, bringing food and drinks to firefighters at fire scenes and also delivering gift cards to victims of house fires. The district has a junior firefighter program, and, like Ozark County VFDs, it installs in residents’ homes the smoke alarms distributed by the Red Cross. “When we go to a call, we make sure that people have [smoke alarms],” Cantrell wrote in her nomination letter. “If they don’t, we get their information and go back and put it up for them.”

The district helps work community events in Howell County, and “as for helping out our neighboring departments, we have automatic and mutual aid agreements signed with the other departments around us. When we are called, we respond,” Cantrell wrote. Bakersfield VFD chief Greg Watts called the Times to share the news of HCRFD’s honor. “They’re good people,” Watts said. “They help us a lot.”



Ozark County Times

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