By Ed Martin, Editor
Left to right are Lemoore Volunteer firefighters Sterling Stinger, Chief Bruce German and Stuart Lyons.
Left to right are Lemoore Volunteer firefighters Sterling Stinger, Chief Bruce German and Stuart Lyons.

One hundred years ago, President Warren G. Harding held the highest office in the land. The nation – and the world – had recently emerged from the Spanish Flu, the century’s first worldwide epidemic, a killer flu that, from some estimates, killed somewhere in the range of 20 to 50 million.

Sound familiar?

Also, in 1921 in New York City, the mighty Babe Ruth led the hometown Yankees to its first American League pennant. He smacked 59 home runs and drove home 171 runs that season, both Major League records at the time.

Clear across the country, in a small rural community in California’s San Joaquin Valley, a gentleman by the name of Paul Winans took command of a group of eager citizens. He helped create the Lemoore Volunteer Fire Department, an organization of local men who decided that their small, friendly community needed fire protection.

The year 1921 brought forth the Lemoore Volunteer Fire Department, and 100 years have passed since its creation. So, in the spirit of celebration, the local gentry here felt that a party was warranted. So, the local volunteers decided to throw one, commemorating the department’s 100th birthday.

The 100-year celebration takes place in Lemoore’s Veterans Park from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 24. Opening ceremonies begin at 10:30 a.m., and local businesses are sponsoring the event: Leprino Foods, Natural Healing Center, and the Lemoore Parks and Recreation Department.

The Lemoore Volunteer Fire Department is inviting the public to its 100-year birthday party. Barrell fights and bounce houses are slated. Lemoore’s Grocery Outlet has donated 1,000 hot dogs.

In the Volunteer Fire Department’s century-old history, there have been only 13 fire chiefs, and currently, after 100 years have passed, the affable Bruce German is the most recent Lemoore man to take on the important role. He took the reins in 2018 from outgoing fire chief John Gibson (2005-2018), who took over from Gene Miguel (1999-2005).

And so it goes, a long list of dedicated firefighters that can be traced back 100 years when Winans took on the job.

Lemoore Volunteer Fire Department gets started on its second hundred years

The Lemoore Volunteer Fire Department is, of course, the city’s first line of defense when a fire breaks out, an accident occurs, a hazardous condition looms, or even if there is a dire medical need.

Lemoore’s volunteer firemen are often the first ones on the scene.

The Lemoore Volunteers – all 35 of them – respond at a moment’s notice, dropping their tools if at work, throwing a quick wave to a loved one, or setting aside lunch to meet the city’s call.

Technically, the anniversary is Aug. 3. “The actual date for the 100th anniversary is Aug. 3,” said Chief German, the Lemoore Volunteer Fire Department’s current chief, who has been serving in the chief’s job for the past three years.

“We are changing our business meeting to the (Aug. 3), and we’re going to have all the retirees there. They’re all invited. We are going to have a little dinner, just amongst ourselves.”

Lemoore’s volunteers certainly have much to be proud of. For years, and including recently, Lemoore’s volunteers have managed to maintain a status unheard of by many volunteer departments. “We are a little different from most volunteer fire departments,” said German. “We are in the top five percent in the nation regarding response times. It’s called the ISO rating.

“The lower the number your department is rated, the lower your insurance rates are for your home.  We are a two. The best rating is a one,” said German.

The prognosis for transitioning to a full-time paid department is slim. As long as they maintain their low ISO rating and the department maintains its efficient and dedicated workforce, he doesn’t see any changes. “As long as we do what we do and what we do provide services, I don’t see anything changing.”

An undated photo of members of the Lemoore Volunteer Fire Department.
An undated photo of members of the Lemoore Volunteer Fire Department.

No female volunteers yet, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any. Women who want to volunteer can certainly apply. “Anybody and everybody can apply. You have to live in city limits and have to be over 21. and we want at least a five-year commitment,” insisted Lemoore’s fire chief.

Rounding out the department’s leadership roles are longtime volunteers Dave Jones, German’s first assistant, and Chris Schalde, the department’s second assistant, both of whom have served the city for many years.

Most likely, the majority of Lemoore’s citizens appreciate their fire department. “I think the public appreciates us very much and has a lot of respect for us,” said German, who acknowledges there may be a few who aren’t fans.

The local fire department has the tools to keep the city safe. Firefighters currently have eight total fire trucks, including four engines, two ladder trucks, and two patrol trucks. They train consistently and respond quickly to local emergencies.

Volunteer fire departments are by no means a rarity. In fact, they’re the norm in many parts of the United States, including California. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), 71 percent of the nation’s registered fire departments are manned by volunteers. In California, 29.6 percent of its departments are manned by volunteer firefighters, while 28.8 percent are “mostly volunteer.”

And it’s unlikely things will change. However, it is quite likely that in the next few years, as housing developments begin to appear on the city’s west side – near West Hills College – the local fire department may see some growth. “Our deal was that once they (city) started developing on the west side, we were going to ask for 10 more firefighters,” said German.

Two years ago, the local volunteers committed to an annual golf tournament to benefit the Leon S. Peter’s Burn Center, located at the Fresno Community Regional Medical Center. Their first tournament raised $30,500 for the local burn center. And the tourney will remain an annual event (it was skipped last year due to COVID-19).

Every Christmas the Lemoore Volunteer Fire Department begins the holiday season with the delivery and placement of a downtown Christmas tree.
Every Christmas the Lemoore Volunteer Fire Department begins the holiday season with the delivery and placement of a downtown Christmas tree.

“It will remain an annual thing. We’ve actually kind of hooked up with the people that run that burn center,” said German. “They were amazed and very impressed. Our whole deal was we were going to do it every year no matter how successful it was. We will continue to do it.”

The Lemoore Volunteer Fire Department has a motto, or maybe might better be described as a creed or a promise, and it’s on the department’s Facebook page:

“Serving the City of Lemoore California since 1921. Amazing what a small group of dedicated volunteers can provide for your community!”

“It’s kind of like “It’s amazing what a group of dedicated people can do for a community,” said German. “It’s kind of like our mission statement.”