Kanarraville gives women firefighters their due
Ceremony spotlights efforts of '60s crew
By Mark Havnes
The Salt Lake Tribune






Alva Batty, 83, looks for her face in a group photograph of Kanarraville's all-women volunteer firefighting force of the 1960s. The picture was part of an exhibit in Kanarraville on Saturday. (Mark Havnes/The Salt Lake Tribune )

KANARRAVILLE - For most of the 1960s, when there was a fire in Kanarraville it was the town's women who put on fire hats.
On Saturday, the town's Historical Society honored eight of the 20 women who formed the first all-female volunteer fire department at a town hall ceremony that included a lasagna lunch, entertainment, and certificates of appreciation and pendants for the women who put their lives on the line.
The force was organized in 1961 after a brush fire that could have destroyed the town was stopped when firefighters arrived from Cedar City eight miles to the north.
Carma Williams saw the town needed its own force and began to recruit women because most of the town's men were either away during the day working in Cedar City or in the farm fields that surround the town in Iron County.
Although it soon gained international attention, "We did it for safety, not publicity," said Williams, 84, on Saturday. "We just had to have someone around to fight fires because we were too far from Cedar City."
Or as 86-year-old Fern Bauer, a lifelong resident of the town and one of the volunteers, says: "We needed a fire department, and when women need something, they get it."
The volunteers were trained and received used equipment from Cedar City, including a 1940 fire engine that had a temperamental radiator. Whoever arrived at the firehouse first drove the truck, recalled Don Williams, Carma's son, who attended Saturday's event.
The driver was responsible for picking up the firefighters waiting on street corners, often wearing whatever they had on at the time. Thelma Lovell arrived in her waitress uniform at more than one fire, according to a news article that was part of a display at the ceremony.
Alva Batty looked for her image, 40 years younger, in some group photographs on display.
"It was something we just had to do," the 82-year-old said. "The hardest part was holding the hoses full of water. They were so heavy."
Norma Howser said that in a small town like Kanarraville, fighting fires was just another activity many of the women did together.
"We had fun because we did everything together," she said, adding her granddaughters do not believe she was ever a firefighter.
Utah Fire Warden Ryan Riddle is a third-generation firefighter - in the tradition of his grandmother, Lillie Riddle, who was among those honored Saturday.
"I got into firefighting because of my grandmother," he said.
Ron Archibald, who compiles the Historical Society's newsletter and spoke at Saturday's event, said the women volunteers exhibited the courage and determination characteristic of the Pioneer women who settled the area beginning in the 1860s.
"When the men weren't around, they trained to be firefighters," said Archibald. "True to the spirit of those who came before, the women picked up the slack."