Fire dept grows

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, January 25, 2017
It’s little bit of the old and a little bit of the new for the West Liberty Fire and Emergency in 2017. The department recently added a new fire truck and a new chief.

Kirt Sickels, 16-year member of WLFD, was nominated and appointed to the role of fire chief Tuesday, Jan. 17, replacing Brian Flake.

Sickels has worn many hats for the department, which covers a fire district of approximately 100 miles around West Liberty.

In 2015 he was the secretary treasurer during the $340,000 project that doubled the department’s size, adding an ambulance bay, office space, storage room and classroom.

He’s also helped pave the way for the brand new $512,000 fire truck that was delivered to the department back in November of 2016.

Chief Sickels is the perfect fit for the role, a somewhat soft-spoken leader who believes that the best decisions are made by more than one person.

“I like to run things by committee because one brain isn’t the smartest, but five brains are,” he says. “That’s the way I’ve done it in my VA career as well.”

Sickels has spent 36 years with the Veteran’s Association, he’s currently the Director of National Sporting Programs for Disabled Vets.

While Sickels is getting used to his role in West Liberty, the department recently welcomed a new fire truck to its fleet of emergency response vehicles.

The bright red pumper is loaded with enough gadgets and tools to tackle a five-alarm fire, including thousands of feet of hose, axes, oxygen tanks, a generator and ladders.

Heck, it even has a special compartment for storing degreaser. You know, that sand like stuff you can put on the road that looks like kitty litter.

“Some of our trucks are better than 30 years-old out there and the capabilities are limited,” says Chief Sickels about why WLFD needed the truck.

Currently the department has a 10 vehicle fleet, which includes two ambulances, four pumpers, two tankers and two brush buggies.

“This one gives us an opportunity to attack from all four sides of the truck,” he added. “It’s got all the equipment that we need to try and minimize damage to homes.”

By attack he’s referring to hose access, which is limited to one side of most fire trucks. But not this Toyne brand behemoth, it has hose access from all four sides.

Then there’s the slide-out control board on the driver side of the truck, which allows the operator to control water distribution and pressure.

Taking a step inside, it’s like the cockpit of an airplane with all the switches and gears. Plus, there’s also room for six firefighters, including the driver.

The truck itself holds 1,000 gallons of water. It’s one of the two main pumpers you’ll see most often at fire calls. The other, an Alexis, has all the rescue equipment on it.

Besides the truck, the department recently ordered an automatic load cot, which limits the amount of lifting by emergency responders when transporting a victim.

They’ll begin looking into a new ambulance this year, though that’ll take a while as they try to find a good fit for West Liberty at the best price.

So yes, it’s true, WLFD has some new toys. But, that doesn’t mean anything without its volunteers.

“I’d like the community to know what kind of dedicated individuals we have here,” Chief Sickels said of the approximately 25 active volunteer roster.

One fire call can take between two to eight hours; the department spent around 225 hours fighting fire during the 90 fire calls in 2016.

Then there was the 557 emergency calls last year. At approximately two to three hours per call it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this crew was busy.

Add to that the 24 hours of yearly training required for fire fighter, 32 hours of training required for an EMTb and 72 hours of training required for an EMTa.

“Those are hours over and above what they’re already giving. They don’t get paid for any of that,” says Chief Sickels.

That’s why he’s is hesitant to talk about himself, or his role as the chief. In his own words:

“I’d rather talk about our people,” he says, bringing up the Newcombs, the Morrisons, the Harneds, the Christensons and more.

“We need these type of people,” he adds. “We are seriously looking for folks out in the community that would have an interest in being in the department.”

Those who are interested are encouraged to contact the West Liberty Fire and Emergency Department, they’ll get you started on the right road.

“I have a great respect for our community, as does everyone else on this department,” says the chief.

Sickels was raised in Danville of southern Iowa. He attended Southeastern Community College in Burlington, were he went into the service and became a U.S. Navy Corpsman.

His journey to West Liberty was one more of luck. Back in 1992 he and his wife Debra were driving through our quaint little town.

“We were driving along Highway 6 and saw a few homes for sale,” he says. “That very afternoon we saw a house, called the realtor and put an offer on the house.”

“Next thing we know we were moving to West Liberty,” he adds.

Around 2000 was when he began with the West Liberty Fire and Emergency Department. Sickels now has three children and six grandchildren.

He has been in the business of helping people for sometime, it looks like he’ll be doing it for a little longer with the department.

Of course, all this aside it doesn’t answer an important question about all of West Liberty’s fire trucks, including its latest addition.

Why are they all red?

“It used to be, way back when, that’s what all fire trucks were,” he says taking a shot in the dark, “Then some of the bigger cities decided to go with bright green or whatever.”

“The thing that’s crazy to me,” he adds, turning it around. “All of our trucks are decked out with lights. I don’t understand how people don’t see us coming at times.”

So there you go, if you ever see West Liberty’s latest pumper with its light a blazing, please move out of the way.
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