St. Joe Fire Department marks 50 years of service
The town of St. Joseph volunteer Fire Department has been around since 1964 and observed its 50th anniversary with a picnic on July 26 at the fire station on the corner of county roads E and V.
Current Fire Chief Ron Burton is proud of the fact that all nine living members of the original fire department were present at the picnic.
Burton is the longest standing current fireman, having been in the St. Joseph roster for 30 years, and chief since 1996.
“I was introduced to the department at an early age,” Burton said. His late father, Grant Burton, was one of the original firefighters.
“When I was about 10 years old he would let me ride on the truck to fires. It got into my blood.”
Times, of course, have changed dramatically. Today all firefighter must ride in a conventional cab and be strapped in.
“In the old days, fireman rode on the tail board and hung onto a pole across the back,” Burton said. “So at the age of about 10 I was on the tail board travelling down the highway at 50 mph. Today a guy would be in jail if he allowed that!”
Burton grew up in Burkhardt, and for many years the department kept a truck at the Burkhardt Co-op. The main department was in a garage between the old Houlton drive-in theater and a gas station. The first section of the current building was constructed in 1979, with a large addition built in 2010. The Burkhardt truck was pulled from that community in 1997.
The St. Joseph Department is currently averaging about 130 calls per year. Burton said that about a third of those are traffic accidents.
As far as memorable fires, Burton said there was a string of four large fires from the fall of 1973 to early 1975.
“There was a large fire at the Bass Lake Cheese Factory in the fall of ’73,” Burton said. “Then within just a few weeks in early 1974 the Turf Club (a former Houlton night club) and the Country House (now the Valley House) were destroyed by fire.”
In early 1975 there was another large blaze at the Burkhardt mill.
“In the early days, there were a lot of barn fires,” Burton said. “Hay would be stored when it was wet or green and combustion would start a fire. That’s why there aren’t too many barns left.”
When the original firefighters from 1964 get together, however, there is one unforgettable fire that impacted them all.
“There was a fire in 1966 or 1967 that took the lives of a father and his two sons,” Burton said. “Those original firefighters never forgot it. In those days most of the firefighters were farmers and everybody knew everybody. Most of them grew up here, lived here and worked here. That fatal fire left a huge impact on all those involved.”
Burton said another big difference between today’s firefighters and the old days involves the gear worn by firefighters.
“In the old days they literally had a raincoat and rubber boots,” Burton said. The helmets were paper thin. I remember the story about one of our early firefighters unable to climb a ladder because his boots kept slipping off! Today we have wonderful personal protection equipment.”
The celebration/reunion was organized by St. Joseph firefighter Cale Dahm. He discovered the 50-year anniversary was coming up this year; he also discovered that the department did not have much in the way of recorded history.
“This event gave us a chance to piece together some of our history,” Dahm said. He is also a long-time St. Joseph resident. His grandparents were Marjorie and Chester Dahm; his parents Sue and Stan Dahm.
“The difference from the old days is that not many of the current roster were born and raised here,” Burton said.
One thing both men are looking for are any old photos that people may possess.
“We have 1000s of photos from the last 20 years, but not much of anything from the past,” Burton said. “Our old memorabilia consists of a few miscellaneous items – a few reports, a few receipts – that’s about it.”
The St. Joseph Department currently has nine vehicles, including one of the originals, a 1964 Scout with 9,000 miles. The roster includes three brush trucks, two engines, two tenders, one ATV and one squat (a redesigned ambulance).
The current firefight roster has 26 firefighters – 24 male and two female. The members are: Jeff Amundson, Jared Anderson, Charles Barrette, Ron Burton, Tom Carlson, Dan Clark, Cale Dahm, Nick Dahm, Tony Derose, Paul De Rosier, Ryan Flattum, Andy Harder, Steve Johnson, Jeff Kulibert, Dan Milbrath, Phil Norell, Tim O’Brien, Mike Perucca, Joe Petrucelle, Austin Radinzel, Sarah Rose, Zac Spates, Eric Steingraber, Karol Strey, Mike Tuma and Tyler Williquett.