Being a firefighter isn't just an occupation, it's a heritage.
And the history of the Kearns fire station illustrates that heritage and the kind of community support that allowed two surplus Army fire trucks and a tar-paper garage to evolve over the years with addition of the most modern facilities the times have allowed.And while much of the physical evidence of that heritage will be erased when the existing Kearns fire station is replaced soon by a new station, longtime Kearns residents and several family members of the late Lee "Ole" Johnson have kept the history alive.
Ole had been a volunteer firefighter since 1952 and was one of the first full-time firefighters at the Kearns station in 1959, three years after a new station was built to replace the tar-paper garage that had served Camp Kearns.
His wife, Phyllis, joined 14 other women to form the Women's Auxiliary Fire Department, which took charge of raising money for the volunteer fire station. She was elected the first secretary-treasurer.
But the women's group did more than raise money. Since the firefighters were often at their day jobs when a fire broke out, it was the women who drove the trucks and hauled hoses until their husbands could get away from their jobs and respond to fight the fire.
Phyllis Johnson kept the minutes at the Women's Auxiliary's first meeting on May 5, 1953, at the Community Hall: "Fire Chief Ronald Toogood and Assistant Fire Chief Byrd Eddie were there to explain to us why they needed the women and what would be expected of them. It was decided to have our next meeting Wednesday, May 13, at the Fire Station to start training."
It was the early 1970s when the firefighters fastened a boot to one of their trucks and drove around the community looking for donations to build an ambulance bay onto the station that was built in 1956.
"Dad helped open that station," remembers Ole's son, Jeff, who is now a lieutenant with the Salt Lake County Fire Department. His brother and brother-in-law are also county firefighters.
Jeff grew up around the fire station. "I remember the Christmas parties there - climbing on the fire trucks."
Jeff was 18 in 1971 when his father was killed. The fire truck Ole Johnson was riding on was hit in an intersection while responding to a fire call. Jeff spent his first three years as a firefighter working at Station 11 in West Valley City - the station where his father was working when he was killed.
Ole Johnson's widow reacted with both pride and apprehension when her two sons became firefighters, Jeff Johnson said. They all knew fire-fighters were able to help other people - "My father was real good at that," Jeff said. And his mother had operated a pumper truck and helped fight many fires during a time when the families involved with the volunteer fire station made up "quite the social network."
Other minutes Phyllis Johnson kept in the early days reflect the social nature of the Womens' Auxiliary's attention. "At our March meeting it was decided to buy a baby dress for members having new daughters and rompers for new sons. Our first to buy went to June McGill for her baby girl.
" . . . A card party was held at the home of June and Lynn Jackman on March 20, 1954. Those who didn't play cards played pick-up sticks. Refreshments were served.
" . . . On April 10, 1954, shows were started by the Fire Department for the children of Kearns. Allen Carleson, a member of the Department, will use his projector to run the films at a cost. After a while it was decided that the department would buy their own projetor so they could make more money."
The movies and an annual Valentines Day dance were the station's only money-raising events. Two movies were shown each Saturday, the minutes go on to say, including films on civil defense and a teaching film on kitchen fires.
There were few telephones in Kearns in the early 1950s, which made it difficult to call out the firefighters since most houses shared a party line with nine other families. A civil defense siren at the station summoned firefighters, and a radio telephone, modern to the time, was installed in one of the trucks to help coordinate communiations until more phone lines were strung through the community.
The wrecking ball will do more than tear down an old building when the current station is demolished. "I've got a lot of family history in that building," Jeff said.