Silver City’s volunteer fire department holds community together
September 30, 2005
Lyon County’s smallest community boasts one of its stronger volunteer fire departments and a commitment to the town that spans several generations.
The 13 members of the Silver City Volunteer Fire Department make up one of the county’s largest departments in a town of just more than 100 residents, according to Fire Chief Kip Allander, a second-generation volunteer who has served Silver City for 15 years.
His father, Jim, spent about 30 years as a Silver City volunteer firefighter and served as the department’s past chief. His mom, brother, K.C., and sister, Patricia, each have spent about 10 years as members of the fire department.
“We have a very strong family tradition and we’re going to try to keep it that way, and for others, too,” Allander said. “We have a few second-generation firefighters.”
One of those is Grahame Ross Jr., assistant chief, who said, while holding his 10-month-old son, Liam, “he’s going to be third-generation one day.”
Tradition counts in this close-knit community. If the historic Silver City Schoolhouse, which burned on July 7, 2004, was the community’s heart, then the fire department is its soul, first on the scene fighting that fire and the first to step up and fill the void that it left behind.
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All the activities that used to go on at the schoolhouse now take place in the small fire station, Allander said. Town meetings, youth task force meetings, schoolhouse rebuilding committee meetings and children’s activities.
“They have arts and crafts, reading programs; they put on a play,” Allander said. “Just anything to keep the youth busy.”
The two weren’t sure when the department was formed, only that it was the 1800s. “We’ve tried to track it down,” Allander said. “It was after Virginia City’s and Dayton’s, but it’s still one of the oldest in Nevada. We just can’t figure out exactly when.”
Protecting a historic mining community presents some unique situations, not the least of which is when the Silver City firefighters go out on a call, they may very well know the person they will be helping.
“When you get a call to a family member’s or friend’s address, the adrenaline really gets going,” Ross said. “The schoolhouse, that was total adrenaline.”
Allander described the fire at the 137-year old landmark – called in by a member of the department – as “the worst fire I ever was on because it was so close to home, it was home.”
Allander said they get calls most frequently for wildland fires, structure fires and car accidents, also to assist surrounding departments. He mentioned mine fires as particularly challenging.
“Mine fires are really difficult because you can’t get in there,” he said. “We’ve just had a handful, but every one was its own beast.”
Allander described trying to fight a fire at the Oest Mine in July 2000 with foam, to no avail.
“We filled the entire shaft with high-expansion foam, and when we went back a few days later it was still smoking,” he said. “Then we thought if we used carbon dioxide to get rid of the oxygen it would starve, so we got a bunch of dry ice and threw it down there. When we went back, it was out.”
Pride in the department is as obvious as the engine in the department’s bay.
“I really enjoy working with our team,” Ross said. “We have a lot of experience and we’re volunteers and we do a really good job. This is not our job, but we can hold our own with most paid departments.”
For fundraising, the department sells T-shirts, aprons and bandannas and holds a Fireman’s Ball every so often. They are also on emergency standby for special events, like the recent Virginia City Ferrari Races, whose organizers then make a donation. The money goes for membership retention and recruitment, not equipment, said Allander.
“Our district (Central Lyon County) does a good job taking care of our needs,” Allander said. “We certainly have a wish list, but our equipment is relatively high end and we have everything we need to fight fires.”
The department is seeking more members, since all of Silver City’s firefighters and emergency medical technicians work regular, full-time jobs. Two of the volunteers live in Carson City.
Allander is a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and Ross is an information systems analyst for the Nevada Department of Transportation. They say their second career with the fire department is just as important.
“Being part of the community, being active in the community and giving back to the community,” Allander said. “This is where we were born and raised.”
n Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at email@example.com or 882-2111 ext. 351.