fire station in Salamonia, Ind.
PROTECT EACH OTHER: An attitude toward community and cooperation has helped this small town in Jay County, Ind., protect itself for decades.

Spirit of cooperation makes local fire department work

Residents chipped in and now own the fire department.

Do local volunteer firefighters serve your area? Would they be the first to arrive if a fire broke out at your place? If so, when was the last time you thanked them for what they do?

Several fire departments that were once totally volunteer now receive some tax support from the local tax district. This is the story of a unique fire department that hasn’t gone that route. That’s not to say it might not happen someday. But right now, the Salamonia Volunteer Fire Department in Jay County, Ind., is owned by the people — some 30 members who have signed notes and put up money over the years so the town and surrounding community could have fire protection.

“We are an independent volunteer fire department,” says Scott Hilfiker, a farmer and one of the key organizers of the department. “We have an older building here with two pieces of equipment and a newer building with three pieces. We have been lucky to have the support of the community.”

Proud history
The fire department was founded in 1934 when some families banded together to purchase a hand pumper unit. The Salamonia school building, abandoned as a schoolhouse in the early 1950s, was actually the first firehouse, notes Bob Lyons, a township trustee in one of the townships served by the fire department.

“At one time they had a 1937 Dodge firetruck in there, and then later they purchased a used 1953 Ford truck,” Hilfiker says. The department officially reorganized in 1968 and adopted Salamonia Volunteer Fire Department as its official name. The older of the two current fire stations was built in 1968. The school building that served as the first firehouse has since been restored to look as much as possible like it did when it was used as a school in the mid-20th century.

“We support ourselves with three fish fries in the winter, and we also do very well selling fried fish at one of the annual events in Portland,” Hilfiker says. Still, it’s difficult to raise enough money to buy equipment. One of the department’s most recent firetrucks was obtained through grant money, thanks to a grant written by a former resident who now lives and works in an adjoining county.

“We also get support because we have contracts with some of the surrounding township trustees,” Hilfiker says.

“I help them the best I can,” says Lyons. “There is only so much money to go around.”

Future challenges
What makes this story so special is the fact that a community has pulled together for more than eight decades to meet a need in the community, doing it largely by donating their time and even their money to make sure the need is met. Cooperation and togetherness are rare commodities today, even in many rural areas.

One of the biggest challenges right now is obtaining new members, especially younger people who are willing to go through the training it takes to be a volunteer firefighter, Hilfiker says. There are training standards that have to be met for someone to become a member of the department,

Hilfiker is uncertain what the future might hold. It’s possible that a taxing district could eventually be established, or that several or all townships in the county could work together in this effort.

“For now we’re dedicated to doing the best we can, and protecting our community,” he concludes.

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