PUNXSUTAWNEY — Being a volunteer fire chief is a very difficult job, but being a chief in a rural fire department can be even tougher.
Just ask Bruce Baughman, who is retiring as the chief of the Oliver Township Volunteer Fire Company, Jefferson County Station No. 5, following 17 years at the helm.
Baughman said he first joined the fire company in 1987 — a year after Oliver Township Volunteer Fire Company was formed.
Martin G. Palmer, who has served as chief and held other officers positions since the company was formed in 1986, said their first trucks were a 1942 Mack engine and a 1952 Ford engine.
Palmer said the trucks Oliver started with actually came from Knox Dale.
"The 1942 Mack was actually purchased by Knox Dale from Reynoldsville during World War II," Palmer said, adding that the Ford originally came from Pittsburgh.
Baughman said the new firehall, which is now located in Markton, was built in 1995.
The original firehall was an old gas station (and still exists in Coolspring), on Coolspring Road, and there was a truck that was kept in a garage in Oliveburg.
Baughman said the reason he joined the fire company was because he wanted to become involved in the community.
"I watched a guy die because no one wanted to get involved, and I didn't know what to do," he said.
"I wanted to become involved so I didn't have to watch something like that happen again," Baughman said. He said the standard procedure for starting a new fire company is to purchase equipment first and then construct the building. Baughman said they didn't exactly follow that protocol, though.
"We constructed our building first and then purchased more modern equipment later," he said.
Palmer said the most modern piece of equipment the company had when it moved to its new firehall was the 1962 American LaFrance engine that is currently for sale in front of the firehall.
"We also bought a 1971 American LaFrance from New Bethlehem that was in service up until the company purchased its first brand new truck a 2008 International engine through Homeland Security a couple of years ago," Palmer said.
Baughman said thanks to a good working relationship with their mutual aid companies the Oliver Township Volunteer Fire Company was always able to get the job done.
Palmer said they went through the same transition that every fire company has.
"We went from having old equipment with lots of manpower, to having modern equipment with a lot less manpower," he said.
Baughman said he believes the fire company has turned the corner, as younger people are becoming involved and getting trained.
"We are one of the few fire departments that will res- pond a truck with one person on it," Baughman said, adding that they have members coming from different areas to an emergency scene.
"Many of our members do not live in Oliver Township," he said.
Palmer said the company probably has more members who live out of town than live in it.
"We've always had drivers to get the apparatus to the scene, even if they don't know how to run it, someone at the scene will. Our 2008 International was the first truck in Jefferson County with Compressed Air Foam System (CAFS) with a remote controlled deck gun," Baughman said.
"It's proven itself. Now, we have to get the other fire companies in the county trained that you don't need to 'squirt, squirt, squirt.,' Foam is the way to go" he said.
Palmer said he went to a sawmill fire, and while he was the only firefighter on the truck, he extinguished one-third of the fire with the remote controlled deck gun.
Baughman said the foam smothers the fire and removes the oxygen, knocking the fire down quickly, unlike water which takes much longer.
Palmer said he had mixed feelings about the Quick Response Service (QRS) program when it first began at Oliver, but his feelings have changed.
"However, people who never supported the fire company did once they had a medical call at their house," Palmer said, adding that they did an about face which was a plus.
Baughman said when Oliver Township's EMT's arrived on scene, the patients were surprised at how quick the response was.
He said they recently received a donation from Jefferson County EMS of a used ambulance, which has been transformed into a rescue vehicle to replace the original rescue, which was also donated by the ambulance service.
Baughman said they have 1988 E-1 Hush Engine-Rescue 5-3, which was purchased from the Sardis Fire Department and is quite valuable.
It is set up on one side for fighting fires and the other side for rescue with rescue tools for extrication at motor vehicle accidents.
"We still depend on our mutual aid companies for extricating an accident with entrapment," Baughman said. "Several of our members have taken rescue classes this year, I'm confident that we could extricate somebody if they were entrapped at an accident scene."
Baughman said it's still nice to have that mutual aid fire company coming to the scene in case they are needed, especially for the manpower if nothing else.
He said managing volunteer firefighters is the biggest part of the job.
"My philosophy has always been in dealing with a firefighter who is having a problem, is to take them off to the side and discuss the problem one-on-one," he said.
"I've always had a good working relationship with everyone," Baughman said, adding that he enjoyed being chief and he will miss it even though he'll continue to respond to calls with the fire company as a regular firefighter with no title.
Palmer said anyone who has ever been chief of a fire company realizes that it's a lot of responsibility.
"It's very time consuming and there's a lot of liability involved," Palmer said, adding that the chief has the lives of a lot of people in his hands.
He said in the last few years the fire company has added a safety officer.
Michael Coleman, Oliver Township assistant chief, has been elected chief and succeeded Baughman on Tuesday.
Coleman said he's been involved in the fire company for nine years, much of which was with the Perry Township Volunteer Fire Company.
"I served as a line officer with Perry for seven years, and I've been assistant chief at Oliver for the past year, Coleman said.
"I knew (in 2011) that if I took assistant chief, Bruce (Baughman) was looking to retire from the position, so I would become chief," he said.
"It's going to be a whole different perspective for me," Coleman said, adding that instead of fighting the fire he'll be on the outside telling everyone what to do.
"Respect is something you can't demand, you've got to earn it," Palmer said.
Shawn Miller has been elected assistant chief at Oliver Township Volunteer Fire Company filling Coleman's position.
Baughman said the worse call he ever responded to was the death of his son Colton Baughman.
He said he was at the Punxsy Eagles for a Sept. 11th memorial program when his fire pager went off for a QRS call.
"I didn't know the call was for my son Colton, who was dead when I arrived on the scene," Baughman said, adding that he thought it was a regular call, not one involving his son.
"The death of your child is something you don't get over easily, if ever," he said.
Baughman said Colton and his brother, Bryan, grew up in the fire company.
"Colton used to get mad if he got to the firehall and missed the truck," he said.
"I told him (laughing) if he rode with me we'd be the first on scene," Baughman said.
In honor of Colton, Oliver Township has decided to make a change for the better of the company.
"We are going to purchase GPS units for the fire company's apparatus in Colton's memory," he said.
"I want to thank Marty (Palmer) for all the help he has given me over the years," Baughman said, adding that he had to learn to sort through all of the stories to get to the good stuff.
"There were times that Marty and I sat at the old Coolspring firehall and talked until three in the morning, and then got up and went to work," he said.
"There was a lot of joking around and there was a lot of knowledge that he passed onto to me," Baughman said.
Finally, Baughman had one more set of thanks and a well wish.
"I want to thank everyone for all their help, I've enjoyed my 17 years as chief, but I'm looking forward to helping the new chief (Mike Coleman) as we begin a new chapter in the history of the Oliver Township Volunteer Fire Company," said Baughman.