By John Butters, The JOURNAL
WELLMAN ?Founded in 1893, the Wellman Volunteer Fire Department celebrated its 125th year of service to the community Sunday with an open house for its retired firefighters and the public.
Wellman Fire Chief Jeremy Peck said Wellman has a good group of volunteers at the fire station. ?They are a great bunch of people to work with,? Peck said. ?You just couldn?t ask for a better group.?
Like most volunteer firefighters, Peck and his staff are not compensated. Considering the amount of time and personal sacrifice required of a volunteer firefighter, it?s surprising that smaller communites like Wellman can fill its ranks.
Peck said it?s the volunteers commitment to serving their community that keeps the volunteer crew ready to go. But while Wellman?s staffing is adequate, it is becoming more difficult to attract new candidates. ?It is a real challenge to get younger people to volunteer and give of their time,? he said. ?It could be the lack of compensation or just a different set of values.?
The Wellman Fire department is unique in that it is not a branch of the city administration. Consequently, the volunteers are not city employees.
The department sustains itself through fundraisers, grants and contracts for fire protection in Wellman and the six townships it serves. It?s a large fire district for a small department and it can stretch the department?s resources. ?We serve a four-county area that includes Keokuk, Iowa, Johnson and Washington,? Peck said.
That covers a lot of ground. The department applies for grants to help pay for training and new equipment, but Peck said the department needs to be frugal with the money itreceives. ?We spend what we need and maintain what we have,? he said. ?You won?t see a number of $500,000 trucks in our service.?
Peck said one of his continuing goals is to put a ?highly trained staff into service so that when a call comes, we?re ready to go.? To achieve that goal, the department spends a significant amount of its time and money in training its personnel.
The Wellman crew is a close-knit team. Many of the firefighters grew up together within the community. Peck, like many others, played football for Mid-Prairie in high school. The department has a family feel to it and that could be because there are a number of family members on the squad. The responsibility of community service has been handed down for generations in Wellman.
Jack and Jim Seward are the sons of Jack Seward, Sr., a former fire chief. Jim is a former chief and their grandfather, ?Zip? Kuhns, was also a fire chief. Jack is now retired from the department. Chief Peck?s son Rex is on the roster and Training Officer Tracy Owens and his sons Trever and Zach are fellow firefighters.
Other officers in the department include Kenny Miller, Assistant Chief; Jim Seward, Assistant Chief; John Kauffman, Secretary/Treasurer; Rob Young, Training Officer and Tracy Owens, Training Officer.
Wellman City Administrator Kelly Litwiller praises the department for its support of the community. ?On behalf of the City of Wellman and all residents, I want to thank the Wellman Volunteer Fire Department for all they do for this community. Besides fighting fires, they provide the city with weather related patrol, street cleaning, fireworks, and great local support for community activities. We are grateful and deeply appreciative of the time they spend away from their family, businesses and the personal risks they take as a volunteer firefighter to protect us. We are very fortunate to have the volunteers, equipment and experience it takes for a small town,? said Litwiller.