By Linda Titel
Stan Heinemeyer and Pat Nachtwey are firefighters with Nichols Rural Fire Department. What sets them aside from other firefighters is the longevity of their service to the community and surrounding areas.
Heinemeyer has been a volunteer firefighter for the past 50 years and Nachtwey has been one for 40 years.
Nachtwey said he became a firefighter to help out the community, he lives in Cicero so he volunteered for the Black Creek fire department for 20 years and when the boundaries changed he joined the Nichols Rural Fire Department.
Nachtwey said, “I like the camaraderie of all the firefighters, we have a great group of guys.”
Heinemeyer said, “I started in North Dakota, I was a firefighter there for five years before I came here [to Nichols]. I liked being a firefighter in North Dakota and there was a need when I started in Nichols so I volunteered. I worked right in town so it was convenient for me and for the fire department.”
Nachtwey said there was a lot of training that went into the firefighter position and he really respects the guys who stuck it out, with regular jobs and mandatory training. He said, “I didn’t think I would still be here 40 years later but it was a good experience and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything else.”
Heinemeyer said he never thought he would be in the field for 50 years, even 20 years ago he wouldn’t have guessed it, but at 65 when he was thinking of retiring he was talked into staying on doing various jobs, like book keeping, photography and maintenance. He doesn’t fight the fires anymore, he said, “When I was 45 and the whistle blew for a fire I would jump out of bed but at 65 that was a lot harder to do.” Heinemeyer is 78 years old now.
Nachtwey said “I was with Black Creek and Nichols at one time but as you get older your body tells you what you can and can’t do.” Nachtwey is currently 70 years old.
Nachtwey said, “Forty years ago there was no training, when someone quit you had to go out and find someone, but nowadays there is a lot more training involved and criteria that has to be met to become a firefighter.”
“It wasn’t pretty when I first started,” Heinemeyer said, “When I came to Nichols all they had at first was an old truck with an engine in the back to pump water. It took three men to get the door open to the truck because it was so heavy. Our fire house was a little shed by the lumber company.
“We got another old beat up truck from the military, it was a piece of junk but it did what it had to do, then we had two trucks and that was a big thing for us.
“It was pretty rough back then, today it’s better because we have newer trucks and equipment plus the training and the new fire house.
“We never had any turn-out gear [fire uniforms] we just wore our street clothes, when another department got new uniforms we would take their old ones which were really heavy to wear.
“When the training classes started, everyone went to Fox Valley Tech and got state certification. It was a lot easier back then than it is now, so many hours have to be met and there is more intense training.”
In Heinemeyer’s day there were two to three weekends of training but now there is a lot more criteria that has to be met as well as more hours of training.
Heinemeyer said, “We had a good relationship with the tech, and we didn’t have a lot of turn-over, firefighters would come and stay for three or four years.
“We got the new fire house built and then after that we got new turn-out gear and a couple years after that we got respirators.”
Heinemeyer believes they are the best fire department for their size in the State of Wisconsin. He said, “I really believe that. There is a lot of dedication and each firefighter puts in a lot of time and work.”
There are 35 firefighters right now and Heinemeyer said, “We get between 25 to 30 at each meeting and 15 to 20 guys at a fire and that is pretty much unheard of in a small community.”
Heinemeyer remembers a major fire, the Nichols Co-op burnt down in 1971 or 72, on the last day of deer-hunting. He said, “It was a big one, we had help from Black Creek, and Shiocton fire departments. Murphy’s construction hauled water with their cement trucks which helped a lot. We lost the whole middle of the building, and one thing about is [the co-op] sold guns and shells and every so often you would hear a big bang when they went off.”
When a structure fire occurs the fire chief makes a (maybe call) and sends out a box alarm, one alarm means one fire department goes, two alarms means more surrounding fire departments are needed and three or four means everyone reports with their water tenders, which may include Navarino, Seymour, Shiocton, Bear Creek, Black Creek and Bonduel. The county would dispatch these departments if their is a major fire.
Nachtwey said, “We have equipment that we don’t use all the time that we share with the surrounding fire departments like our air truck, which supplies air for the tanks for the respirators.”
Nachtwey remembered a silo fire at Birlings Farms which burnt for a day and a half.
Heinemeyer recalled a barn fire on Christmas eve years ago when it was -25 degrees out. “That was a tough fire because everything would freeze up, now it would be easier because we have more firefighters and better equipment.”
The Nichols fire department recently purchased a heavy duty rescue truck that is heated where firefighters can rest and stay warm.
Nachtwey said, “The hardest part of the job is getting up at 2 a.m. in the morning when it’s below zero out.”
“When there is a fire call we still get a good turnout because around 10 of the volunteer firefighters are farmers who are available most of the time, years ago there would only be two or three that would show up and we [would] have to wait for more to arrive before we could do anything,” said Heinemeyer.
It’s a lot better today then it was back then.
Nachtwey said, “There are guys on the department that work in the Valley so it is hard for them to show up during the day when they are working, when they can make it they show up, but time is a major factor for a fire.”
Although both Heinemeyer and Nachtwey don’t go out to fight fires anymore they still volunteer their time to do maintenance on the trucks or help out where needed.
Nachtwey said he will show up until the Nichols Fire Chief, Terry Scheller locks him out.
Heinemeyer lives in the Town of Maine with his wife JoAnn, and has four children, Dion, Dino, Doni and Bo.
Nachtwey lives in the Town of Cicero, with his wife Sharon, and has three sons, Scott, Jason and Adam.
Wife of the Nichols Rural Fire Department Chief, Paula Scheller commented on the men, “Too often many people take for granted the hard work, training, schooling, and hours of working together to form a team of firefighters who don’t get paid, except through the gratification of those that they have helped.”
Nichols Chief Scheller said, “Although both men are retired from fighting fires they do a lot behind the scenes and can be found at the firehouse two or three times a week. They are definitely an important link to the chain of the Nichols Rural Fire Department.
“A man once said, ‘When a man becomes a fireman, his act of bravery has already been accomplished. What he does after that is all in the line of work.’”