Beaver Island’s Firefighters

From the current issue of the Beaver Beacon:

“You might go a couple months without a call, and then you get several calls in the course of just a few weeks. That when all of our training comes in. We have to be ready.”

These words, spoken by long-time firefighter, John Works, certainly played out on Beaver Island this winter.

A serious car fire on Donnel Mor’s Lane was the beginning. Within a matter of days, another fire: Paul Welke, returning to the island from an emergency medical run, spotted smoke. He immediately called it in. This time it involved the home of Jeff Stewart and Rita Palmer. It had started in a shed, and spread to the house. Paul’s quick alert enabled  firefighters to get to the scene in time to save most of the home. Another car fire happened on Hannigan Road. Finally, a chimney fire at the home of Bill and Andi Kohls brought the department out in force.

With so much fire-fighting activity spurring my interest, I asked John Works to give me some insight. He agreed to talk to me about the Beaver Island Fire Department.

Beaver Island’s fire fighters are a devoted bunch! Though others, including Bud McDonough and Walter Wojan, organized to fight fires through the years, this group, with Tim McDonough as the chief, is the first to have gone through the 800 hours of training to become certified firefighters.

That was more than thirty years ago. The guys would crowd into a small room at the sub station to watch training videos every week. Intermittently, teachers in the field would come over from the mainland for hands-on training. Eventually, they took the official state test to qualify as Firefighter I and II, certified firefighters.

New people joining the ranks, of course, have to go through training, too, but the learning doesn’t stop for any of the team. The firefighters meet every week; often the meetings involve methods and means of handling situations.

“Firefighting has changed drastically over the years,” Works said. “With changes in building materials, the fuels that feed a fire are different.” In traditional buildings, a fire would generally start slowly and build to a crest. Now, with more plastics and synthetic materials, a fire can build quickly and will often create enough heat to snuff itself out. It continues to smolder, then, and when windows break, that suppressed fire can explode. This changes the way a trained firefighter approaches a fire. When entering a building now, breathing apparatus is essential as many materials are toxic when heated. Materials in automobiles have changed, too, causing fires to be more volatile. Air bags, alone, have necessitated big changes in how car fires are handled.

In addition to weekly meetings and training sessions, on a monthly basis, teams of five go through each fire truck and all equipment. The trucks are cleaned, tires are checked and aired up, fluids are filled or changed  as needed. All tanks and hoses have to be examined. Everything from breathing apparatus to thermal imaging equipment is tested to make sure it’s in good working order. The teams change from one month to the next, to add the advantage of a fresh pair of eyes, to make sure nothing is overlooked.

Our firefighters are on call 24 hours a day. Pay? “Not really,” Works informs me, “there is a stipend. If you make it to every single meeting and each training session, if you never miss a monthly rotation for vehicle and equipment maintenance, you might get $500.00 in a year.” He’s quick to add, though, that they aren’t in it for that reason. “This is a way to give back to this community that I love,” he said, “We are all dedicated to this job. Helping the people is it’s own reward.”

I’ve heard that John Works is often one of the first firefighters to enter a burning building. When I tell him that, his response is immediate:”Every firefighter is important,” he says, “and every job is important.” Some firefighters go inside to fight the fire; others support the effort from outside. “We need the trucks, the tanks, the water: the outside crew is essential to us being able to get the job done.” He adds, “I couldn’t do this job without my faith in God.”

When I mentioned the Island Treasures Re-Sale Shop, run by the ladies of the Beaver Island Fire Auxiliary, John’s voice softened. “They are angels,” he tells me. “Today’s equipment is so specialized, so expensive, we can’t possibly thank them enough for their support!” He went on to give an example: a single radio, necessary for alerting the firefighters when they are needed, can cost between six and eight hundred dollars. “Their devotion is every bit as grand as that of the firefighters,” he said, “God bless ’em!”

When I asked if there was anything I hadn’t thought to ask, or anything he’d like to offer, Works answered right away: “Protect yourselves! The saddest thing is that in 80% of house fires, the smoke alarms have been disabled. They save lives! They buy time! Check your batteries; keep your smoke detectors operational. That’s the best advice I can give.” Beyond that, Works mentioned that trees growing close along a driveway, or even snow that hasn’t been pushed back, can prevent needed water from getting to your home in the case of a fire. Consider that emergency vehicles need to be able to get through, and plan ahead.

At this time, our fire-fighting crew consists of: Tim McDonough, John Works, Jim Wojan, Gerald LaFreniere, Tammy LaFreniere, Bob Marsh, Ron Marsh, Joe Timsak, Jim McDonough, Darrel Butler, Dillon Butler, Neal Boyle, Tom Whitman, Steve Crandall, Bruce Cull, Kevin White, Mike McDonough and Levi Connor. They each deserve out heart-felt gratitude for all they contribute to our community. Thank you!




Here it is: the very first issue of the Beaver Beacon with my name attached.

I had a great deal of help – and many other offers of help – from friends and family and supporters. There were those who  helped for my sake, and others for the sake of this island magazine that has become such a welcome institution over the years. Because I don’t yet have the software that will allow me to do the layouts, Jeff Cashman kindly took the time to put this issue together. Some folks allowed me to write about them; others contributed their own stories. Others offered photographs, creative writing and research. Without their help, this issue would not have been possible. A huge thank you to all of you!

My introduction is here:

I am Cindy Ricksgers.
You probably already know me.
You may have seen me at the Shamrock, where I was a daytime server for about twenty years, or at the Old Rectory or the Lodge, where I served dinner. You might have seen me at the hardware store, where I’ve worked for ten years. Perhaps (be still, my heart!) you are familiar with my artwork, on display at Livingstone Studio and a few other locations. I hope you’ve read the articles I’ve been writing for the Beaver Beacon; I’m pretty proud of them.
I’ve been visiting Beaver Island all of my life. My Dad was raised here, and this was where we came for vacation. I was always the kid draped over the railing at the back of the boat, sobbing because I hated to leave. I first moved here in 1978, and have been off and on (mostly on) the island ever since.
I’ve been reading the Beaver Beacon most of my life. My parents subscribed to it, and it was always a special day when it showed up in the mailbox. I’ve watched it change and grow over the years from a few type-written pages, mimeographed and stapled together in the upper left corner, to the glorious full-color publication it is today. I am honored and humbled to step into the role of editor here.
I have three primary goals.
First, I would like to not make a complete fool of myself. My experience in putting out a periodical is limited. In 1968, I was part of the team putting out the high school newspaper in Lapeer, Michigan. Bringing the “Panther Press” to the public involved manual typewriters, graph sheets and a lot of cutting and pasting. Things have changed quite a bit since then, in the printing world! With my limited knowledge of computers and software, this could be a very public, epic failure.
Second, I want to maintain the standards of excellence that we’ve all grown accustomed to. Bill and Jeff Cashman set the bar very high. It seemed that every issue outdid the last in remarkable photography, timely and interesting articles and outstanding features.
Third, my aim is to keep my eye on the readers. Times have changed; the Beaver Beacon is no longer the only news source coming out of Beaver Island. We have a radio station, for heaven’s sake! Beyond that, the Northern Islander provides information in a monthly newspaper format, and Beaver Island News on the Net posts happenings at least weekly. I check the Beaver Island Forum for death notices and up-coming social events. No matter, I know there is still a place for the Beaver Beacon. I know many look forward to it showing up in the mailbox, just as my Dad used to. Many eagerly anticipate the Beacon appearing on the newsstands, and look forward to the pictures and stories. My goal is to continue to put out a publication that is a joy to receive and a pleasure to read. I have already received a great deal of help, and many other offers of assistance. I have been given photographs and stories, and ideas for features and articles. It is all greatly appreciated. I welcome your ideas and input, as I muddle my way through this. With your help, the Beacon has hope of continuing to be the Beaver Island tradition it has grown to be.
Beyond that, if I can have a little fun, enjoy this as a creative outlet, and not make any enemies, well…I will count that as a huge success!

A big sigh of relief…and then on to the next issue.

I am, of course, interested in the news. Current events, births and deaths all have a place in the Beacon. I’m trying to develop categories so that I can try to cover all the bases. I will say right up front that I prefer good news over bad. I will try my best to be kind and fair in all reporting. I don’t want to set too many plans in stone; as I get accustomed to the process, I’m sure my ideas will evolve. Jeff has told me I’ll start to relax after the second or third issue. I hope so!

If you have news items or ideas you’d like to contribute, or if you’d like to purchase a subscription (one year – 6 issues – is $30.00 at standard mail rate, or $45.00 for first class mailing), you can write to:

The Beaver Beacon . P.O.Box 254, Beaver Island, MI 49782

Thanks a million!