TRE fire station grows to meet demands
Topaz Ranch Estates Volunteer Fire Department will soon raise a new sign over its station designating it the “East Fork Fire Department.” The department has expanded, along with the building, making it a fully-staffed, 24-hour-a day fire station.
The station on Albite is undergoing an expansion due to be completed July 1 and the work won’t be done in time for the annual fundraising barbecue, June 3 from 2-8 p.m. Instead of taking place at the Station 4, this year the event will be at the TRE Community Park building at the end of Carter Way.
Once the expansion is completed, the station will be staffed by Dave Norvell and his partner Zack Pederson, Jeff Costa and Jeff Cates as well as Walt Kesteloot with Brian Rice. Each team will rotate in and out working 24 hour shifts and staying in the new living quarters being built at the station.
TREVFD has undergone many changes since it was first formed in 1973.
It took real horse power to help build the Topaz Ranch Estates Volunteer Fire Department. In the spring of 1973, Wilma, a 3,000 pound Belgian draft horse, along with her owners John and Virgie Arden, were major contributors to the volunteer fire department the community sees in TRE today.
It was that spring when the first big influx of property owners started flocking to TRE and it was growing fast. It was evident a volunteer fire department needed to be established and, with its early organization, a fundraising auxiliary called the Fire Belles was formed. Holding their first fundraising event, a spaghetti feed, at the Wellington Community Center, the first event was met with tremendous success and more were planned.
In an article about Wilma and her fundraising efforts written by Sally Lyda for The Record-Courier’s July 3, 1980 edition, a ground breaking ceremony took place on land donated by the Ardens, at what is now Albite Drive near the intersection of Carter Way and Albite. The Ardens also donated the site for the next fundraiser at their old Fairfield Ranch across from TRE and what is now Highway 208 at the base of a mountain formation known as the Sleeping Elephant.
“The public was treated to an all-day festival including a dime-a-dip meal, games, contests and a drawing for prizes, all donated by the Ardens, but the biggest attraction of the day was Wilma who was hauled all the way from the Arden property in Reno for the day. Adults petted, admired and took pictures of her as children paid 10 cents each to climb on her massive back for a ride.
“The Fire Belles held many fundraisers after that, their fundraising techniques were copied by volunteer fire departments all over the county, but those who attended the 1973 dime-a-dip potluck say none ever equaled in enthusiasm the fundraiser that starred Wilma, the Barbant mare from Belgium.
“The firehouse to which she and her owners contributed so much to was destroyed by explosion and fire in the fall of 1978 and Wilma, by leg fractures from her massive weight, died a year and a half later, but neither will ever be forgotten by the residents of Topaz Ranch Estates” concluded Lyda.
The blast that destroyed the TRE Volunteer Fire Department happened at 1:01 a.m. Oct. 30, a time established by a clock that stopped when it was knocked to the floor, its cord pulled from the wall in the home of Les and Colleen Carter, several yards from the firehouse. The blast was so strong that it blew the roof of the building into the parking lot of Carter’s of Nevada, a general store and lumber yard, which is now Topaz Joe’s and Nevada Trading Company. Even though the wind, typical to the area, had died down before the blast took place, flying sparks ignited nearby sagebrush and local volunteers, their hoses and equipment destroyed in the burning building were reduced to garden hoses from the neighbors until help arrived from Minden, Smith Valley and as far away as Mason Valley, but their gallant effort saved the community from further disaster.
According to a Nov. 2, 1978 article in The Record-Courier, it was determined that the explosion was caused from a propane leak in a stove which, ironically, had been used the previous Sunday for a fundraising dinner and low lying propane was ignited by the pilot light from the hot water heater, 24 hours after the building had been filled with over 400 people who were there to contribute to a fund for Denise Walters, a local girl who had been seriously injured in an auto accident.
A blessing in disguise, in 1976, the county commissioners with Gary Stone as chairman of the Douglas County Commissioners, had accepted title to the structure and placed it under the county’s insurance program so the estimated $200,000 loss had some resource for replacement. By dawn, the morning of the fire, at the agreement of then Fire Chief Rollie Lyons and Dan Hellwinkel of the County Fire Department, two county engines were sitting in the parking lot of Carter’s of Nevada for the protection of the residents and the fire station was replaced.
TREVFD has had three fire chiefs since Lyons. In June of 1980, Frank Riva assumed the position of fire chief, retiring in February of 2002, Ronna Hubbard took the position, retiring as of February 2006 after 27 years of volunteering, to hand the reigns over to Coreen Hutchison as the fire chief of TREVFD who was sworn in March 28.
“It is nice to have a crew on duty here 24 hours a day,” Hutchison said, “but there is still a need for volunteers. At present we have 13 volunteers and five, soon to be six, auxiliary members, but we need more. There is always something you can do.”
“There are so many needs that volunteers can fill at the station. You don’t need to wear turnouts and be fully trained to be of great benefit,” Hutchison said. “We need people who are able to take care of book work, answer phones, help with fundraisers like the barbecue we have planned for June 3 and fire safety and education of the public,” she said. All these things are important and free the trained personnel to do the work they have been trained for. When I started out here at the station I had no clue about fire fighting. I figured I wanted to participate in the paramedic part of it. All I knew was I wanted to do something to give back to the community I live in.”
According to Hutchison, following in the footsteps of Ronna Hubbard has been a pretty tough act to follow.
“Ronna did so much without us even knowing it. I am wondering now, when did she ever sleep,” Hutchison said. “We have all been in a little denial that she won’t be here to lean on.” Hubbard will stay on in an auxiliary position, helping the department, but in a limited capacity.
The humble beginnings of the TREVFD have grown into something for residents to be very proud of as well as the volunteers who dedicate their time to the station. The one thing that has remained a constant for the 33 years of Station 4 is the dedication of the volunteers that have made this established department a possibility.
For more information about volunteering or helping with the fundraiser call Fire Chief Coreen Hutchison 266-4419.