CALLENDER — Shawn George, the current Callender Fire Department chief, only recently stepped into that role when former Chief Kevin Kruse decided it was someone else’s turn.
It happened rather quickly.
“He said, ‘I nominate Shawn George,’ that was it.” George said. “I have a good mentor there, though.”
Kruse is now the assistant fire chief.
Before his election at the beginning of 2018, George served as the department’s secretary/treasurer for eight years.
George said Kruse dodged a metaphoric bullet in being able to pass the white chief’s hat.
“You have the position until you leave or die.” he said, tongue firmly in cheek. “Kruse got lucky.”
George has been a Callender resident since his family moved there when he was in first grade. He had always had an interest in joining the department but, like many others, family obligations and odd work hours kept him from it.
“I thought about it,” he said. “I just wasn’t able to commit the time.”
That changed when he was hired by the city of Fort Dodge and as a result had regular work hours.
“I joined in 2004 when I got on with the city.” he said. “Then I got a schedule that allowed me to do something I like.”
George had already taken many of the classes required for being a firefighter. He was able to add his EMT certification in 2012.
“I went on the medical calls,” he said. “I was an extra hand. I wanted to be more useful.”
George likes the variety.
“All the calls are unique in their own way,” he said.
He recognizes that there’s no such thing as a routine call, especially for the person who is experiencing the emergency, be it a fire, accident or medical condition.
“You do your job,” he said. “You try to console, let them know everything is going to be OK.”
Much of that comes back to training.
“You just do it,” he said. “You’re not thinking about it, it’s what you’ve trained to do.”
George is leading a 10-member department that’s struggling with the same issues facing small rural fire departments through the entire country.
“Just finding good qualified members,” he said. “Finding people that want to be involved. We’re struggling to keep 10. The younger generation doesn’t want to step up.”
George has nothing but praise for the members of his department. He’s particularly proud of the latest four to have joined.
In addition to finding personnel, there’s the high cost of training, equipment and keeping older trucks running and in good shape.
“It’s close to $10,000 to equip each firefighter,” he said. “Gear only lasts so long. It actually has an expiration date on it.”
The department holds fundraisers to get equipment and gear that the tax-funded budget doesn’t cover. It’s currently in the process of purchasing a new-to-them truck, a 2007 International for $83,000.
“That’s just short of $100,000,” he said. “We’ve been saving money for 10 years to try to get that purchased.”
The department currently has four trucks. Two tankers and one pumper and something quite almost original.
“A 1929 Model A,” he said. “It’s the first truck the department ever bought with a motor in it.”
He also has a ready answer to the age old riddle about why firefighters wear red suspenders.
“We don’t,” he said. “Ours are black and our trucks are yellow.”