Amer. Fork firefighters mark a century of service
StoryDiscussionPhil Hermanek

For the past 100 years, American Fork residents have slept a bit easier knowing a group of dedicated firefighters was on watch, ready to respond to an emergency in this northern Utah County community.

Although the city bought its very first piece of firefighting gear -- a steel fire cart for $96.80 -- in 1908, the fire department was officially organized in 1910 with William Firmage as its chief.

By then, the city had authorized doubling the firefighting equipment, adding a second, larger fire cart with a price not to exceed $125. During Firmage's administration, the city's first fire truck was purchased in 1916.

One senior member of the department -- Stan Street -- said when he joined 37 years ago, he was given a pair of cotton coveralls, an old hard hat, a pair of boots and a pair of gloves.

A lot has changed since those early days.

A Mack fire truck was purchased in 1987 with a price tag of $180,000 including truck equipment; a Ford brush truck was purchased in 1992 at $55,000; a Smeal fire truck and equipment were purchased in 1996 for $238,016; and in 2006, a Smeal 105-foot ladder truck was bought for a whopping $587,530.

What has not changed, however, is the caring for the community by firefighters and emergency medical responders who make up the department, according to current Fire Chief Kriss Garcia.

"This department is a fabulous representation of the basic foundation of a volunteer fire department," Garcia said. "The men and women just care about this community and about each other.

"I've said this before, but families come and go, friends come and go, but the fire department is here forever. A member is always a member of this department," Garcia said.

When he took the helm six months ago after retiring from a 27-year career with the Salt Lake City Fire Department, Garcia asked the members where they wanted to go ... full-time firefighters or remain as "paid call volunteers."

Without exception, they all said they wanted to continue as volunteers paid when called out.

"What that means is I can put 20, 25 people on scene when I need them," Garcia said. A full-time department could not afford such staffing levels.

"We turn out with enough people to do the job safely," he said.

Currently the department is staffed 24/7 with a full-time supervising captain, one full-time firefighter-emergency medical technical I, two firefighter-paramedics and one part-time firefighter-EMT I, according to department spokesman Franco Wissa. Two advanced life-support ambulances are staffed around the clock and a third is always on standby.

In addition to the ambulances, the department has a front-line fire engine, the ladder truck, a front-line brush truck and a backup brush truck, backup engine and backup fire truck, as well as two command vehicles.

American Fork Fire and Rescue provides fire protection services to the city of American Fork and surrounding Utah County areas. Services include structural fire and wildland fire protection, according to Wissa, who is also a firefighter-paramedic.

In addition to being trained and equipped for extricating trapped victims in vehicle accidents, some members also are trained in rope, trench, high-angle and confined-space rescue.

The department has mutual-aid agreements with the surrounding communities of Lehi, Pleasant Grove, Alpine, Highland and Cedar Hills, and several members participate in the North Utah County technical rescue team.

When not responding to emergencies, the members are highly respected for dedicated service to the community through the annual Memorial Day Firemen's Breakfast and the Fill-the-Boot Campaign for muscular dystrophy, Wissa said.

American Fork Fire and Rescue Memorial Day Breakfast, 6 to 10 a.m., Monday, May 31, at the American Fork Fire Station, 96 N. Center St. Cost is $5 for adults and $3 for children 12 and under. The all-you-can-eat menu is pancakes, eggs, ham, hash browns, milk, juice and coffee.