By Deb Patterson
SIDNEY — Located in the southeastern most township in Kosciusko County is a fire department that serves a small community and an entire township. You ask any member of that department and they will tell you Sidney-Jackson Volunteer Fire Department “rocks.”
It is the only department that has gone away from the traditional fire trucks — red with white lettering and/or stripes. Instead, their trucks are red with black reflective lettering and stripes.
“When we did that it really helped boost the morale of the department. It really helped out,” said Tom Brainard, firefighter. “It sets us different than some of the other departments. We used to have all the whirly gig lights. Now we have all new lights on the trucks that is safer for the guys.”
Kevin Wagoner, fire chief, noted the guys put a lot of time into the 2012 truck they received at the end of 2019, beginning of 2020. In fact all three trucks — an engine, a brush truck and tanker — have been changed. The newest truck came with “a black stripe on it. It had gold letters. In our opinion, it looked atrocious. We decided something had to be done.”
Instead of getting rid of the black stripe and replace it with the white, “we kept the black stripe. Got rid of the gold lettering. It’s a little up to date and nicer,” said Wagoner.
“It looks new,” Brainard added.
Jon Engelhaupt, firefighter, added, “It was kind of a big ordeal. A one-shot deal. It would be pretty expensive to have it done. We cussed and discussed, spent hours looking at it and laying things out, trying to figure out what it was going to say here or there, but not too much. I think we pretty much have a really good design on there. It’s pretty middle of the road. It’s not too loud … looks really nice.”
Members of the fire department are proud of the equipment they use.
Sidney Fire Department is funded by the township — a township that doesn’t have much of a tax base. “There’s not a lot of money down here,” Wagoner stated. “When you try to get a group of guys together to go do a job with the equipment that $5 buys versus $50 will buy, it makes a big difference.”
“We’re sitting down here in the $5 area. There’s not a lot of money in this area coming out of this township, so it’s something we’ve got to make ourselves and create ourselves to make it work. We don’t get paid to do that. Everybody works together. Granted, if you brought Warsaw’s budget down here, I guarantee you it would be a little different atmosphere.”
Wagoner further stated fire departments throughout the county go from one extent to the other as far as the type of equipment. “On the extreme, there’s not a lot of budget down here. Whether it’s equipment or morale or whatever. You learn to fight for yourself and make it work one way or another because that’s about all you got.”
Brainard added, “Several times we’ve all pitched in on a project. We’ve used someone’s backhoe, excavator and made it work with what we’ve had.”
There are also no fire hydrants in Sidney, requiring the 2,000 gallon tanker to travel quite a distance to refill.
The department is 106 years old, and celebrated its 100th year anniversary in 2015. The three long-time firefighters said the station used to be on a lean-to off the back of Slaters. A new station was built in the 1980s after kids got into the lean-to and vandalized a number of items. The new station was added to about 29 years ago.
The department is an all-volunteer department. There are 15 firemen and four emergency responders who run as needed. “When I got on the department, a good portion of it was fire runs. Any more we’re going more and more less fire calls and more medical calls. It allows us to stack our roster a little deeper and take care of a majority of what the calls are,” said Wagoner.
“The biggest thing probably, is the medical end of it,” said Wagoner. Sidney is one of three departments in the county that has basic life support certification but is a non-transport service. “That was something we ran into years ago,” said Wagoner.
“I’m not sure if we were the first department in the county to be a basic life support non-transport unit. … seemed like something that took off on the county, then fizzled out, partially because of the ambulance service in the towns. Obviously, its something we never had here is an ambulance in our station.
“I feel like the community relies on that portion of it, as long as we kept it going. We’re out here far enough an ambulance normally isn’t very close to us.”
Don Slater is attributed to starting that movement in town when he was the township trustee. “He got it in to where we could allow just medics on (the department). I think everybody else you have to be a firefighter to be involved. With us our insurance policy is set up so we can have medics run with us instead of being involved with the fire service also,” noted Wagoner.
Being a volunteer fire department, Sidney is fortunate there are firemen who live near town. “A good portion work out of town,” Wagoner stated. “We’re fortunate to have some off shifters. It gives us manpower during the day.”
Engelhaupt stated when he joined the department 21 years ago, there were only four guys on the department who were not farmers. “We’re pretty fortunate, too. We have enough farmers and off shifters, people that work from home … we’ve got enough of a mix we can always get out the door. A lot of departments these days struggle to get out the door because work won’t let them leave or they work too far away. … We don’t have a problem … we can run pretty much six to seven guys at any given moment.”
“We’re really fortunate as far as volunteers because right now we are one short of a full roster … really, really fortunate,” Wagoner said, adding they have spots for 16 firefighters. Experience is also a benefit for the department. They have a large group with 20-plus years, another group with two to three years and a few with under three years.
Yet there have been times when firemen would have to fend for himself. Engelhaupt recalled at least one of those times. “It’s not as bad as it used to be.” He noted it was burned into his “brain when I first got on. You go to the station. You can’t do anything without a truck .. now there are three or four closer than me, it works out pretty good.”
Engelhaupt and Wagoner also shared an experience of traveling to Washington, D.C. for some training experience. They both shared that was an experience they would not forget and those firefighters were more interested in how the small department operated. “It was definitely an eye-opening experience. Something I’ll never forget,” Engelhaupt said.
Members of the department are a tight-knit group, like all fire departments. Engelhaupt stated, “We’re best friends here. We have raised our kids together.” Engelhaupt, Wagoner and Brainard added, “We’re close. We do a lot of stuff together.”
Sidney-Jackson Fire Department covers Jackson Township, the town of Sidney and the southern portion of Monroe Township.