RONALD TOWNSHIP — In 1976, MarkRavell, Robby Walker, brothers Dave and Keith Martin and other Ronald Township residents wanted to help the community by establishing a fire department.
Forty years later, Ravell, Walker and the Martins are in their 60s, but they still go on fire calls and protect the community.
“Some of us don’t do what we used to anymore,” noted Walker, a fire captain. “We don’t go on roofs or in burning buildings. We let the younger ones do that.”
Even though their roles might vary slightly from four decades ago, the four men continue to serve as firefighters because their original desire to serve the community still burns within them.
“I’m proud to be part of Ronald Township’s fire department,” Dave Martin said. “As long as I can still do the job, I’m going to keep doing it.”
“It’s been very enjoyable, and we still enjoy what we do 40 years later,” said Ravell, the current fire chief.
Before the fire department was founded in 1976, northern Ronald Township residents could expect to wait around a half hour for the Ionia Fire Department to respond to calls.
“The closest departments were Sheridan, Carson City or Ionia, and it put them about 15 miles from anything (in Ronald Township),” Ravell said.
A few buildings ended up destroyed because of slow response time, and a group of residents decided to solve the problem by creating a volunteer fire department for the township.
“We got with the township officials, and they were for it,” Walker said.
Dave said he and his brother Keith wanted to help the community by providing quicker service to the township, and they ended up enjoying their duties after a while.
After the founders received approval from the township to start a fire department, they had to build a fire barn, go through firefighter training and find equipment.
“When we started, my uncle was a firefighter in Ohio,” Walker said. “We were talking and telling him we were trying to get a fire department started. He sent up a bunch of old equipment they had down there.”
The new department needed a fire truck. Volunteers came across a 1948 pumper truck, which they purchased.
The fire department quickly grew and flourished. In its first year, it had 24 firefighters who attended the first training.
Since the first 1948 pumper truck, the fire department has updated fire trucks three times and are now the owners of a 2003 pumper-truck along with three other vehicles, including a used grass rig they bought to replace one from the 1950s, a tanker truck and a used ambulance to be used as a command truck.
The fire department also has obtained better equipment.
“The equipment is so much better, so much safer for the firefighters now,” Walker said. “We didn’t even have fire pants back then.”
Other improvements the fire department has made over the last 40 years include having firefighters go through first responder training.
“We’re doing a lot of (first response) now to be able to get to a victim faster than an ambulance might,” Keith said.
One change that has hindered the fire department in recent years is state requirements and the amount of training required to volunteer as a firefighter.
“People don’t have the time to do it anymore,” Walker said.
Dave agreed and said when people have families and other jobs, it’s hard for them to have enough time to do the training to become a firefighter.
All four men agreed the biggest challenge facing the fire department is finding new recruits.
“We’re always looking for new, young people,” Ravell said.
The fire department has the challenge of a tight budget as well, but it’s something the Martins, Ravell and Walker have dealt with since 1976.
“All township budgets are kind of restrained,” Dave said.
“We do little fundraisers once in a while to help buy the little things like flashlights or jackets to help out so the township doesn’t have to buy stuff like that,” Keith said.
Despite the challenges, all four men plan on staying with the fire department as long as they can.
“I’m 67 years old, and I don’t foresee retiring from the fire service anytime soon,” Dave said. “As long as I can still stay healthy and get up at 2 a.m. on these icy mornings and have the ambition to do it, I’ll still do it.”
The four men have dedicated most of their life to the fire department, and their service was recognized in October with plaques to commemorate their service.
“When you sit and think about it, 40 years — I think that is quite an accomplishment,” Keith said.
Over those years, the fire department has become more of a family than an organization to the men.
“It’s like a brotherhood,” Dave said. “Once you get in it’s really hard to get out.”
Dave compared working with some of the original men who started the fire department to working with a family, and he said they don’t just fight fires together but have spent time together camping, roasting hot dogs and having bonfires.
“I don’t know what the word is for what it’s like (working with the same men) — it’s absolute, the friendship and trustworthiness whatever you want to call it,” Ravell said.