By Xiomara Levsen
This Sunday, the smell of maple syrup and pancake batter will fill the building that is home to the West Liberty Volunteer Fire Department and Ambulance Service.
They are having their first pancake breakfast since 2016, Sunday, Nov. 6, from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 109 East Second Street.
West Liberty Fire Chief Kirt Sickels said there were several reasons why the fire department decided to have the pancake breakfast.
“Last time we did it, it was very successful,” Sickels said. Our community has always been very supportive of us and we had folks in town here for several years that we were able to go to and say ‘can you help us out?’” Sickels said. “A lot of those folks aren’t around anymore and donations have been down a little bit since before COVID happened so we decided to get up and get after it because there are things we need.”
Sickels wants the fire department to have the right equipment and to replace the equipment that is aging out, he added. The fire department’s executive committee has looked at what they need, their weaknesses and things they could work on and will share that with everyone after the 28E agreements are figured out with the city and with the rural fire district.
“We want a rescue gator,” Sickels said. “We could have used that.”
On Friday, Oct. 21, the West Liberty Fire Department responded to a fire in its rural district service area. They were called back to the same fire several times during that weekend.
“That was a huge fire,” Sickels added. “That was the biggest fire I’ve been involved in and I’ve talked to the fire inspector and he’s guessing that fire is going to cost around seven figures.”
No homes were lost, which Sickels credits to the assistance from other fire departments and community members.
“We had to strategically save six or seven homes that were right in the fire path,” he added. “We had to rescue two people out of vehicles because they decided they were going to drive through the smoke, went in the ditch and were surrounded by fire so it was quite a weekend.”
When it rained last week, Sickels said he got down on his knees and thanked god. The dry conditions led to the increased danger of field fires. Muscatine County has a burn ban in effect until further notice because of this.
The pancake breakfast will hopefully bring people to the fire station interested in volunteering. Like other volunteer fire departments across the state, West Liberty has seen a decrease in volunteers.
This is why Sickels wants to start a junior firefighter program.
“My hope is to get them into the station so they can see what we do and start a program with them,” Sickels said. “Obviously, we won’t put them in any kind of danger but at least they can sit and see what we do. They can come to a fire and they can help with water and rehab and pull hoses and that kind of stuff.”
Soon, a new ambulance will need to be purchased, he said. Funds from the American Rescue Plan Act from the city and this fundraiser will go toward buying the new vehicle.
“Our second ambulance has 98,000 miles on it,” Sickels said. “It’s due to rotate out so we need to do some fundraising, some grant writing, do whatever we need to do. Since I’ve been on, we’ve tried to keep the costs for the rural and the city at a minimum. We’ve been very fortunate in getting out and getting after it to make sure we have it.”
Sickels has been fire chief for six years. He has been a member of the department for 21 years. Currently, there are 26 volunteers for the fire department but 17 active members. Ten people can go on ambulance calls, he said.