Celebrating 40 years in the firefighting family

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Celebrating 40 years in the firefighting family

By Mike Van Sickle
Union Editor

While they may not have started their service to the West Union Fire Department during the days of horse-drawn fire trucks, as some of their cohorts may jokingly report, firemen Roger Gamm and LeRoy Soppe have certainly experienced a number of changes to firefighting over the past 40 years.

On Thursday, community members can express their gratitude to not only these two longtime volunteers, but once again to the entire department, during the annual Pancake Supper at the local fire station. 

“The firemen that we are today is a direct result 
    of all those who have trained us along the way.

   …Roger Gamm
        WU Fire Chief

 

As the department anticipates hosting the annual fundraiser, Gamm said, “I would like to share a huge thank-you to West Union and all the surrounding communities for their continuing support of not only our fire department, but also of those in the surrounding area. The annual support of our pancake supper has been overwhelming. Those donations have helped provide us with safer equipment, which allows us to do our job.” 

“The community support has been tremendous since I have been onboard. It is one of the reasons that we have such a dedicated crew. The support of any community and its fire department go hand in hand,” added Soppe, while expressing his appreciation to residents, city leaders, township trustees, and local employers.

Four decades of community service

Roger and LeRoy were appointed by their peers in 2004 to serve as fire chief and assistant fire chief, respectively. Roger was selected to fill the boots of former fire chief Chuck Broghammer, while LeRoy replaced Bob Gage.

The longtime friends were not only sworn into their current positions together, but in 1973 both Roger and LeRoy accepted an invitation from Don Granger to join the local fire department.

The veteran firefighters feel fortunate to have both served under former fire chiefs L.T. "Speed" Phillips, and Charles Broghammer. 

“Speed was a very easy-going fire chief who never grew too excited, even at the larger fire calls,” said Gamm.

“Speed was always cool and collected. He was always able to perceive what was going to happen next,” Soppe agreed. “Chuck was equally knowledgeable about the department and everything involved with firefighting. He was a great leader.”

“Chuck was the assistant fire chief when we joined, and he handled the majority of the training,” the current fire chief continued. “He was a great inspiration to all of us. He was always big on teamwork, (continuing) education, and training of the firemen, which are all things that I equally stress.”

LeRoy explained that the training provides updates on all of the continuing improvements to technology and operations in the field of fire safety and rescue.

While the number of hazardous materials that a firefighter has to be aware of on a fire call has increased immensely; the safety equipment has also greatly improved.

LeRoy recalls sliding into rubber coats, boots, and gloves. The garb was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Today, the firemen are much better protected within their Kevlar suits.

“A lot of firefighters used to be hesitant to wear masks back in the day because they would almost immediately fog up and provide little or no visbility inside a fire,” the 63-year-old assistant chief added. “There is no problem with that any more. The air tanks are also lighter, hold twice as much air, and are equipped with an alarm system which provides additional safety.”

“One of the first things that a new recruit learns from the other firemen is teamwork. One person doesn’t put out a very big fire,” Gamm said with a smile. “Our firemen are very energetic and eager to complete new training exercises. It is a pleasure to work alongside each of them.”

“Yes, they are a pretty dedicated bunch,” Soppe equally stressed. “They each put in a tremendous amount of time for additional schooling, training, and answering fire and other emergency calls. People don’t realize the amount of training that all firemen have to go through on an annual basis.”

Both Gamm and Soppe acknowledged that it would be nearly impossible for a firefighter to rightfully carry out his duties without the support of his or her family.

“This is one reason that my main objective as fire chief has always been to assure that the firefighters are properly educated, so that each of them may stay out of harm’s way and safely return home safe to their families,” said the 62-year-old fire chief.

“The firemens’ family is not only of this department, but all those who serve in the surrounding towns. Each of them helps protect the citizens of Fayette County and beyond. We’re just a piece of the puzzle here in West Union,” he added.

“The firemen that we are today is a direct result of all those who have trained us along the way. It’s never just the fire chief, but because of all those who served before us,” closed Gamm.

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