From the Fire Chief

Fire Chief Kirt Sickels · Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Hello West Liberty and the surrounding communities! I reach out to you today to highlight some of our members and more to come in the months to follow!

This month’s article is highlighting three very incredible individuals! Let me introduce you to the Newcomb’s, Charles (Chuck), Curt and Zach.

Three generations of Fire Fighters who have and still serve on the West Liberty Department totaling more than 73 years! I was honored and humbled to be able to sit down with these three gentleman and talk to them about their experiences and history on the Fire Department.

It was a very entertaining evening and I learned a lot about the dedication and commitment to the community these gentlemen have… along with a few humorous stories!

I start with Chuck and some of his experiences on the department. Chuck spent more than 40 years on the department starting his time after moving from the farm to town back in 1972.

40 years of dedicated service just is not seen on voluntary fire departments and this is quite an accomplishment that this department is very proud of!The longevity of its members!

We are proud of Chuck’s service as a volunteer to this community and we celebrate his service by recognizing him and the three generations of dedication in this article! He was a part of the first EMT-B class the department had which helped improve Emergency Medical Services, (EMS), for the community.

He said there has been a huge change in the way things are done compared to when he started. Probably the biggest change has been the technology. Without a doubt it has really improved the way things are done both in fighting fires and in preserving life and limb.

When they first started the West Liberty Ambulance Service they used an old International cargo van which doubled as a Fire and EMS vehicle.

It actually had an old casket in the rear of the vehicle loaded with fire gear and you had to unload it every time they had a medical call! Chuck says, “Back then it was just load and go. All we had was a stethoscope, blood pressure cuff and bandages.”

Chuck said that they later graduated to an old Pontiac Hurst which they used as their ambulance. Just imagine these days having a “Hurst” rolling up at a scene? … I would guess your thoughts would be “are they here to help me or am I already gone!”

I asked Chuck if he remembered what his first call was and he said, “Yes, just like it was yesterday, it was a car fire!” I also asked Chuck what were some of his most memorable moments while on the department.

He said some of his most memorable moments were seeing both ends of the life’s spectrum ….. The day he saw a life start, delivering a baby and experiencing the birth process, to when he battled to save those last precious moments of life in the rear of the ambulance.

It has made him realize that every moment of life is special and it should be treated that way. His most memorable fire was the Mid-American Gas Line fire east of Iowa City when the gas line blew and they were called into service to monitor the fire for several days.

Another memorable moment included a story about a father and son mishap testing the needs for doors on the departments brush buggy. Somehow both Chuck and Curt tried to rip both doors off a Brush Buggy pickup which was used to fight grass fires.

They fixed it though by using a rope to tie the doors on! Ingenuity at its best! Chuck obviously liked staying busy as he also served as West Liberty’s Civil Service Officer in the 1970’s.

For years Chuck was a staple of strength responding to calls whenever they arose averaging more than 250 calls a year.

Chuck says he is very proud of his son, Curt and now his grandson Zach for following in his footsteps. He was especially proud when Curt became the W.L. Fire Chief, which leads in to the second generation of Newcomb’s serving the community, Mr. Curt Newcomb.

Curt which is still serving on the department, has 32 years of service and is a very active member of the department. When that pager goes off you know two things; first he will be one of the first to respond and secondly be ready and able to do whatever is asked of him.

Another trait passed down from his dad which I am sure will be passed to his son Zach.

Curt is a valued leader and has held several leadership positions and roles over those 32 years. He has been an EMT for 31 years, a Trustee for 6 years, and an Assistant Chief for 5 years and was the Fire Chief for 9 years! That’s 20 years in a leadership position protecting property and providing guidance keeping everyone informed and safe.

Combined with his dad’s years they alone have 72 years of service to this community!

Nothing less than incredible! I asked Curt the same questions I asked his dad. Do you remember your first fire? He chuckled and again said, “Like yesterday, it was at Kenny Morrison’s house, (another fellow fire fighter), his wife was doing some exotic cooking and had a little kitchen fire!” he said, followed by some laughter.

Some of Curt’s most memorable moments would include a fire east of town where they used to manufacture “rat poison” and fellow fire fighters were overcome by exposure, or the Heath Manor Fire some 10 plus years ago when lightning struck it and evacuations were done.

But he says the most impressionable event to date would have been when the ammonia tanks at West Liberty Foods sprung a leak and a cloud of ammonia covered the whole south end of town.

This cloud was very toxic and very dangerous. Because of his quick thinking and heady leadership harm and further damage from the event was kept at a minimum. Evacuating those from harm, managing the scene, fire department personnel/resources, requesting additional resources and triaging a couple hundred residents was quite an accomplishment and something he can be very proud of.

I asked Curt why he joined the fire department and he said that his dad inspired him first off but he really enjoyed the camaraderie on Sunday mornings down at the Fire Station and how close everyone on the department really was.

Curt says he has learned a lot while being on the department, and it’s not all glamorous. You learn a lot about life, its mishaps, about death and how unfair it really is. Curt says he is proud too of his dad and his son and look forward to mentoring his son Zach which leads me to the third generation of Newcomb’s.

Although Zach has been on the department just a little over a year he has jumped in with both feet and has hit the ground not running but on a sprint! He truly is made from the same mode of dedication and commitment as his dad and granddad!

He has finished his Fire Fighter 1 class and now is looking into furthering his responsibilities by pursuing his EMT certification.

I again asked Zach what his first call was and he said it was a 1050 entrapment off of Davis. Isn’t it funny how everyone remembers those first calls? I asked him next what his most memorable event was since he has been on and he said being able to apply what he has been taught so far by using the Jaws of Life and other rescue equipment freeing a patient from an entangled vehicle.

Zach did a great job and worked the equipment like he was a 20 year veteran. I then asked Zach why he joined the department and he basically said it was bread into him. He grew up with all of it!

He said jokingly that he was given the duty as a youngster of taking care of the department Dalmatian standing guard at the department’s front door! By the way his name is CHAZ, Zaach spelled backwards! He said he really enjoyed spending time with his dad and grandpa jumping in and out trucks during parades throwing candy and blowing horns. Joining the department was just something he really looked forward in being able to do!

Zach just as a side bar, I look forward to that fourth generation joining the department….. No pressure here but you have got the keep this Newcomb thing going!

There was many other stories shared with me during this interview and I have only hit a few highlights. Stories of good times, humor, sad times, and events that will forever be a part of this department’s history, I thank the Newcomb’s for their dedication and for their three generations and 73 years of service to this community!

There is no doubt I am a better man for knowing all three of these gentleman! We all again thank for your service!

If you are interest in joining our department please contact the West Liberty Fire station at 319-627-2303 or Fire Chief Sickels at 319-627-6442. Please join us for our Annual Pancake Breakfast April 2, 7 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the fire station. It is a “free will” donation!
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