“We get a lot of positive comments and feedback from the people,” said Bill Hauer, Winchuck Volunteer Fire Department assistant fire chief, volunteer chairman and board of directors member. “They’re glad we’re there.”
It all began in the spring of 1982.
Winchuck residents Chuck Benz, Bill Crooks, Arch Lang and 29 others met with Larry Mollars, a unit forester and local representative of the Coos Forest Protective Association. They learned it would cost $5,000 to $6,000 to form a fire district, which could be financed through fundraising and donations, according to “The Winchuck River Volunteer Fire Department,” a book about the history of the organization.
They also were informed that, by having a fire department, property owners would save 30 percent on their fire insurance.
After hearing this information, the volunteers got to work – with a $0 budget.
Building materials were acquired from an old machine shop on Chetco Avenue. With the help of the Upper Chetco Volunteer Fire Department, which split the supplies with the Winchuck Fire Department, the machine shop was dismantled.
A board of directors was formed. The first officers were chairman Arch Lang, directors Chuck Benz and Bill Crooks, secretary Mary Chadbourne and treasurer Pat Widmer.
Property across the Winchuck Road from Harry Arms’ place was donated from Lee Simpson, a general partner of Simpco Lands of Smith River.
Accident and life insurance was purchased for 22 volunteers at the price of $10 a person per year.
Culverts were dug, and a septic system leach field was approved.
A 1948 Ford Pumper Truck was bought and a water supply truck was acquired.
The fire hall was funded through multiple fundraisers including a rummage sale, elegant dinners, a Halloween party, cookbook sale and of course, the first Winchuck barbecue. The first barbecue was held at the Ludlum House, 12 miles up the Winchuck River. About 275 people were served “the best darn barbecued chicken around these parts,” according to the Winchuck book.
Hauer gave special credit to two long-time volunteers: Bobbie Gross and Terry Hanscam.
“Bobbie has been setting up and running the pie sale for 25 years and Terry has been working the barbecue since the beginning,” he said. “They’ve been so heavily involved for so long, they’re essential to making it all work.”
The department was – and still is – primarily funded through fundraisers and donations.
In between all of these fundraisers and work projects, the volunteers attended firefighting classes on topics such as “basic fire investigation,” and “burn to learn.”
“They learned how to do it as they went along,” Hauer said.
After three years of hard work, the fire hall was complete. It was a one-story building with room to house three fire trucks.
Today, it has been expanded to a two-story building, and can hold four fire trucks.
There are five people on the board of directors, 10 volunteer firefighters, and five volunteers or auxiliary members who maintain the fire hall and the grounds.
“It’s an evolutionary kind of thing,” Hauer said. “If you want to start a fire department, you start out with a building and truck and phone. Then you add on as you can.”
For example, initially,the fire department just used phones and pagers to receive calls. But this was problematic because of limited service and the inability to receive messages while on the way to the scene.
Now the firefighters carry radio pagers, and are equipped with self-contained breathing apparatuses.
“The goal is to get ourselves so we can respond as quick as possible, and be as equipped as possible when we respond to the scene,” Hauer said.
When the district was formed, it served 80 to 100 people. There are currently 160 residents in the district, which stretches seven miles along the Winchuck River Road starting one mile off Highway 101 and ending at the border of the Siskyiou National Forest. The district covers about 15 square miles.
Typically when the firefighters are paged, they receive a person’s name, rather than their address.
“It’s a pretty tight-knit group,” Hauer said.
Sometimes, the department receives five to six calls a month. Other times it can go a month or more without one.
Thirty years ago, the firefighters primarily responded to fires. Today, they are first responders, trained to stabilize situations such as car accidents until EMTs respond.
In the next few decades, Hauer predicts the number of residents will increase by 50 percent. He also thinks the department will stay intact.
“The motivation of the fireman and board of directors is high. I don’t think (the department) will go away,” Hauer said.