by Virginia York

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January 5, 2012
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Alpine firefighters look back on a busy year

On Dec. 13, the Eastern Alpine Fire and Rescue held its Christmas party. After dinner, Assistant Chief Buck Mclelland addressed the assembly. He gave a heart-felt acknowledgement of the families of the local volunteers. Firefighters need the support of their families when they are called away to duty.

They rely on the emotional help provided by family especially when they return from a particularly tough call. In the past two years there has been extensive training which is paramount to the development of volunteers' skills, but which requires absence from family for up to 30 hours per month. He expressed gratitude for the extraordinarily high level of commitment to the community of the volunteers and their families.

This year Woodfords and Markleeville fire departments became one agency, Eastern Alpine Fire and Rescue. A new station has been opened, Hung-a-lel-ti Station 95. In this station there is an engine and a water tender; in Markleeville, Station 92, there is an engine, a water tender, and two brush rigs and in Woodfords, Station 91, there is one engine, one water tender, one brush rig and squad rigs for vehicle accidents and special rescues.

There are also two utilities which travel between stations 91 and 92. Alpine County is now part of the regional numbering system within Northern Nevada, Alpine being the 90 series. This ensures easy identification of units as they arrive on the scene.

2011 was a busy year with approximately 150 calls, a great increase over the previous two years. In the past, Alpine County has always been the grateful recipient of help from neighboring counties. This has been the first year that Alpine has provided significant help to its neighbors, a milestone in Alpine County fire services. These out-of-county calls include the Bain Fire in Reno, a brush fire which was threatening structures in Topaz Ranch Estates, and a structure fire on Echo Summit.

The Firefighter of the Year award was initiated two years ago. This year, because of his dedication to the agency for the last four years, his integrity and respect shown on every call, and because of his blossoming leadership qualities Paul Nielsen, new captain of station 91, received the honor.

Four former volunteers were added to the Wall of Fame.

These were Stuart Merrill, and honored posthumously, John Cassidy, Cam Craik and Chris Gansberg, Senior.

Before Chris Gansberg became the first Chief of Alpine County Volunteer Fire Department there was no organization. When the fire siren went off everybody in town ran to help, the Forest Service taking charge in fighting forest fires. Gary Coyan recalls in the late forties, when he was working at the General Store in his early teens, dropping everything at the sound of the siren and carrying six gallon canteens up to the line, refilling them in the creek.

Gansberg, helped by volunteers such as Archie Wood Senior, was a highly energetic mover-shaker in developing a structured volunteer fire department, with meetings and training.

Dave Zellmer remembers in 1956 being stopped on the road by Chris Gansberg who asked him to help fight a brush fire about 40 feet in diameter.

They put out the fire using wet burlap sacks and a ten gallon cream can of water. In those days it was customary to stop passers-by and put them on the line after ascertaining their medical fitness. At each fire the chief would write on the insurance form the names of all those who were helping.

Stuart Merrill's combined role of sheriff and fire fighter made him especially effective. In the early years he was the only one with a radio and could send for ambulances and help from other agencies. In the fifties he and Judge Lew Love travelled to Southern California, to pick up a new fire truck, a memorable occasion. Stuart negotiated with Lake Tahoe STPUD to send the effluent water directly into four fire hydrants in Woodfords. He was respected in the department for his sound common sense and dependability.

By all accounts, Cam Craik and John Cassidy were solid, reliable volunteers.

At the end of the evening, Chris Hartnett and Shirley Taylor, representing Alpine Fire Safe Council, presented each volunteer with a certificate of appreciation.

Deep gratitude to all our volunteer firefighters.

A footnote. In the '60s, the Board of Supervisors decided against purchasing a new fire truck, saying the county could not afford it. Nancy Thornburg, disagreeing with this decision, went door to door for signatures supporting the purchase of a truck. She succeeded in her intent, and the county still has the truck! Never doubt the ability of an individual to make a difference.

Thanks to Gary Coyan, Buck McLelland, Stuart and Eileen Merrill, Fritz and Nancy Thornburg and Dave Zellmer for providing information.

Virginia York is a Markleeville resident.

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The Record Courier Updated Jan 5, 2012 06:59PM Published Jan 5, 2012 06:57PM Copyright 2012 The Record Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.