Fire department will lead BP’s July 4 parade
By JUDY SCHLESSELMAN
The Belle Plaine Fire Department is a mainstay of the community’s annual July 4 parade, but this year the 40 firefighters will be honored as parade marshals.
The invitation to lead the festivities came through the Lion’s Club Fourth of July Committee, sponsors of the city’s Independence Day celebration.
Committee chairman Mark Drahn said, “A lot of the guys mentioned the fire department. They wanted to recognize them for all they do. The vote was unanimous.”
Fire Chief Russ Spading was surprised but elated when the offer arrived. “I told my wife I don’t think I can even stop smiling when I marshal that parade. It’s always an honor to be involved with something like this that’s bigger than you.”
City Administrator Bill Daily said the department deserves the honor. “I would put the City of Belle Plaine Volunteer Fire Department up against any of similar size communities and even larger. The biggest percentage of them have received the necessary training above what is required, so that tells me they serve with a passion for what they’re doing.”
Daily noted the department is the first to respond when a plea goes out for help with any community event. “We can all go to bed at night knowing that we are well protected and served by a highly skilled group of 40 volunteer fire fighters,” he stated.
Mayor Jim Daily said Belle Plaine is very fortunate to have a large department. “Some mayors of larger towns tell me they have a hard time recruiting half that number. They are truly appreciated, and we hope their dedication never wanes.”
A fire department the size of Belle Plaine’s is a rarity and blessing in today’s world, Spading said.
“I bet you can count on one hand how many 40-man departments are left. They’re a dying thing,” he said.
The local department is the envy of many communities in terms of sheer manpower, training, facilities and equipment. Complete community support is a vital, added bonus.
Volunteerism, devotion to duty
Spading said a desire to give back to the community drives him and the other firefighters to volunteer for duty that is both rigorous and dangerous.
“It’s just that need to help people and the need to respond and do what they do,” he said of the fire department and other emergency response personnel. “The best ones (volunteers) just do it without any complaints.”
He said he remembers watching news coverage after the Sept. 11 attack and seeing rescue workers hauling equipment to the scene. “They were heading off to die. They had no idea why, they just knew they were drawn there.”
The chief noted volunteerism is all about neighbor helping neighbor and solving problems, lessons all parents should teach their children.
A 25-year fire department veteran and chief since 1998, Spading tips his hat to all the men who served before him, men he looked up to as a young rookie and who taught him and other newcomers valuable lessons. The role is now reversed as he interacts with the newest members, including Elana Johnson, the department’s first and only female firefighter, who joined in 2008.
The chief is honored to lead the department. “The group we have is unbelievable. They’re a bang up group of guys. They’re always watching out for each other.” While the crew can goof off and have fun, Spading said they are spot-on when solving problems. Camaraderie is strong.
Spading also applauds the firefighters for their devotion to duty when many family responsibilities and activities vie for their time and attention. They drop what they’re doing to help in a serious situation.
The chief said more than two dozen firemen usually respond to house fires, of which there have been few in the last few years. In a worst-case scenario, a dozen would show up to battle a house fire, a commendable figure for a volunteer department.
Not forgotten are the sacrifices made by the firefighters’ families. “My hat’s off to the wives and children, the ones who miss the meals. I think of the little kid that asks, ‘Where’s he going?’ and his mom says, ‘He’s going to help somebody.’ That’s neat, because maybe when they grow up, they’ll volunteer,” Spading said.
Pat Bevins joined the department in 1983, following in the footsteps of his dad, Kenny. Pat is among the department’s longest-tenured firefighters and intends to remain as long as possible.
“I don’t like seeing people in trouble. The satisfaction is in helping them and when they come back and tell us thanks,” he said.
Pat believes the department’s greatest strength is its leadership, including Spading and former fire chiefs Pat worked under – Maurice Van Hamme, Spiv Ealy and Dennis Greenlee. “You got good people and there can’t be nothing but good. We just keep going,” Pat stated.
Being a firefighter grows on a person, Pat said. There are bad times, but “it’s a fun deal.”
Among the three newest members, Jay Hamilton joined the department in early 2009 and has been on 33 calls so far. He came onboard to help the community and enjoys being part of the crew.
“It’s a lot of learning and getting used to all the trucks. That’s about the hardest thing,” he said.
Hamilton believes the department’s size is its greatest strength.
The Belle Plaine Fire Department was a two-company department prior to the late 1980s. Training intensified when the hook and ladder and hose companies merged, Spading said.
“It became more and more obvious we would not train the men to do one job with two companies. We had to meld together,” he stated.
The scope of a firefighter’s duties increased about this time and now includes HazMat, flu pandemic, weapons of mass destruction and more.
Belle Plaine firefighters train monthly and volunteer for advanced schooling in Ames and through Kirkwood Community College. Dan Johnson, Belle Plaine Area Ambulance co-director and former Mechanicsville fire chief, is the current training officer. Mike Fredericks stepped down from the role two years ago and was a master motivator and confidence-builder, Spading noted.
According to department records, 14 Belle Plaine firefighters have earned both Firefighter I and II status. The department is certified HazMat awareness and HazMat operations level.
Spading considers firefighter safety to be the department’s major accomplishment. He said everything the firefighters do is related to something that happened on previous calls and hard lessons learned.
The use of self-contained breathing apparatus is another major accomplishment, Spading noted. The department had just four units in 1986 and now owns at least 20, the chief said.
As July 4 approaches, Spading hopes most of Belle Plaine’s firefighters will be available to marshal the parade. Watch for the hometown heroes aboard the city’s fire trucks or riding in other vehicles.
Two days of events are planned in Belle Plaine
Belle Plaine is gearing up for its annual Fourth of July celebration this weekend, sponsored by the Belle Plaine Lions Club.
Following is a rundown of scheduled events. Activities will be held at Franklin Park unless otherwise noted:
Saturday, July 3
4 to 8 p.m. – Car show and cruise on Main Street, entertainment by Cat Campbell of KZAT radio.
9 p.m. to 1 a.m. - Street dance on Main Street featuring live music by Smooth Maneuvers.
Sunday, July 4
7:15 to 7:45 a.m. – Registration at the high school for the Booster Bolt, a 5K/1-mile run/walk sponsored by the Belle Plaine Athletic Boosters. The race begins at the high school at 8 a.m.
10:00 a.m. – Parade on Main Street. Cat Campbell of KZAT radio will broadcast live.
Noon – Flag raising ceremony; tractor pull; midway games, 4-on-4 basketball; sand volleyball tournament; craft show; bingo.
Noon to 1:30 p.m. – Mike Lasack & His Rhythmaires
Noon to 2 p.m. – Cat Campbell, KZAT radio, will broadcast from the park
Noon to 3 p.m. – Oscar the balloon artist
1 to 4 p.m. – Pro Video fishing game
1 to 5 p.m. – Free swim at the Belle Plaine Area Family Aquatic Center
2 to 4 p.m. – Don Anders Trio + 1 entertains; karaoke contest
2 to 10 p.m. – Class “A” Karaoke & DJ Service
4 p.m. – Cow chip bingo
4:30 to 5:30 p.m. – Belle Plaine Community Pep Band
7:30 p.m. – Raffle winners announced
8:30 p.m. – Tribute to area military veterans and active service personnel; patriotic music. Sponsored by the Belle Plaine Military Support Group.
Dusk – Fireworks
Christ United Methodist Church will operate the main food booth at Franklin Park. Other food vendors are: Dollars for Scholars, snow cones and funnel cakes; Gold Medal Wrestling club, Pizza Hut Pizza; Rotary, KFC chicken. The July 4 committee will sponsor the beer tent.
UPDATED June 28, 2010 3:45 PM