Volunteer firefighters' open house and grill

Andrew Peterson/Special to the Herald

LUSK – Local volunteer firefighters held an open house this Saturday with a cookout and display of trucks, equipment and show of community spirit for the town of Lusk. In an effort to bring a part of their work full circle back to town, they were giving back once again with burgers, and hot dogs as well as French fries for those who showed up. They visited with the town locals and showed the children a great time, giving a tour of their trucks to the curious faces that were eager to see the bright and shiny vehicles on display. With warm weather and positive spirits, this was a welcome day in Lusk and a great effort much appreciated on their behalf. Let’s not forget all the great work they do, any other day of the week, for which this town is grateful for, and they remain an outstanding force against emergencies.

During the open house, the Herald was given the chance to interview Chief Shawn Leimser of the Lusk Volunteer Fire Department. He was kind enough to agree to sit down and share some thoughts, as well as his time during the event. The whole community is very supportive of the fire department, and it is important to note, all 17 of the firefighters are in fact volunteers, even though they are fully qualified and trained in the same hours as those who are paid to do so.

“Firstly, we just really enjoy serving the community, and we know they have our back,” Leimser said. “Anything we need, they’re always there for us and we greatly appreciate that. We have essentially 17 volunteers that take time out of their days, and if we have any sort of calls, they don’t get paid. We’re all here to support our community, neighbors and all that good stuff. We just really enjoy what we do. We feel it’s a great community to live in.”

The Herald asked if Leimser had anything he thought might be misunderstood about their job, or things the community might want to know. He continued on, by saying this in reply.

“Well, I don’t think that there’s any real misunderstandings, in our community between us all. Everybody in the small community kind of pretty much knows what we do. It’s pretty laid back down here, but the guys actually go through a lot of hours of training every year, essentially having the same training as what a paid fire department does. So, it’s kind of nice to be a volunteer yet still have the same training of a regular department.”

The Herald asked if they had a choice of being paid for this job or not, would they consider it? If not, why would they decide this? Leimser had this to say on the subject.

“Nope, nope, everybody simply likes to volunteer. It’s definitely a sense of giving back to your community, so that’s it,” Leimser said. “We are actually very well equipped, the town of Lusk does a great job with our budgeting. We pretty much have what we need, for the most part, as far as the tools that we need to keep our community safe. We have those, so don't worry.”

The Herald asked about the siren system.

“The siren system is great, because a lot of people nowadays, they don’t carry a pager or get good cell reception out here or something all the time. So, if we do get a fire, having that siren out here is a nice tool, it lets us and them know. The community also kind of knows too, it’s either a fire or a wreck or something too, not just for fires and so they might start to watch for fire trucks coming down the road. This is what has made it a very useful tool for us.”

The Herald asked Leimser what inspired the fire department to host an open house.

“Just to give something more back to the community since everybody supports us and what we do. It’s kind of a way of getting the people in around here and showing people some of the equipment that we use and that the town of Lusk and Niobrara County uses. I’ve been in the department close to, I think, 15 years and I don’t think we’ve ever actually given a tour of the fire house with the exception of the kindergarten group that we bring through every year. So, this is just us opening ourselves to the community and showing the town what we own and use for them. We had a couple of guys in the department who put in a lot of time and effort into it and who thought it up. It was Danny Matney and Chantry Filener, with the help of Ryan Meng and Justin Collins. Then they put together a committee, a group of guys and they’ve all put in a lot of time and effort into it. Kind of part of being a volunteer is always stepping up. Any donations gathered will be used for our guys’ personal gear like gloves or safety gear.”

The Herald asked Leimser if he had any scariest moments while volunteering.

“Not really, they’re all just fun after the training kicks in. But I can remember being up on the second floor of a building with one of our newer firemen, and he kind of felt that floor give so we got out of there and about a minute or so after we were out the whole thing fell in. So, in hindsight that was kind of pulse racing, yet that is where the training kicks in, like I said. So, it’s not really scary to us, where you’ve been trained, and you’ve dealt with it, and you know the situations you are going into. However, it can be one of those situations where you look back at it, and you think, ‘woah.’ Especially when there might be a couple bigger gas fires or a fire moving 60 miles an hour at you and you're trying to get out of the way of it, that’s just where your training kicks in, you know what to do and how to handle it.

“I would say, the hardest part of this job...is probably, when we have to deal with some bad situations with car wrecks and that kind of stuff with losses that can hit home for a lot of our guys. Dealing with that, and dealing with people’s loss of property, loss of land and that kind of thing. It’s hard to see a fast fire move through somebody’s property, and then they have nothing to feed their cows with next year because their grass is all gone; so that stuff hits home to us.”

The Herald asked what part of the job is most fun.

Leimser sighed and smiled, “The funnest part is being around 17 or so great guys and being able to drive trucks with lights on it. Actually, being able to help someone in need is kind of the funner part of the job.”

Leimser said they are currently seeking volunteers.

“Also, we are definitely looking for people to come out and join the department. We’re always looking for new volunteers, don’t know the exact numbers but I think we can have 25 firemen on our roster, and right now we are down to 17. We don’t slow down in the winter, due to some car wrecks from the snow and things,” Leimser said. “We work with EMS, highway patrol, sheriff's department and pretty much all the first responders. It isn’t just fires that we respond to. There’s parts of the job that get overlooked, like in Wyoming, you look at grass fires and car wrecks and that sort of thing, but we also do rescues and that type of stuff as well as gas leaks and a lot of things that we keep trained for. That’s why we send our guys to training so often; we’re not just trained for fire response, we are trained on rescue, vehicle accidents, high angle rescues and all sorts of different things. These guys put in a lot of hours, well over 100 hours over coursework and practicals to become certified, alone. There’s a lot of time and effort into what we do.”

The Herald asked about the department’s fire trucks.

“The trucks are great! You know, that’s the town of Lusk and Niobrara County’s Fire District. They've given us a lot of nice new tools and it’s awesome. It has lots of buttons and they all do something different,” he added with a laugh. “That’s where we also do a lot of in-house training on our trucks, so that each member can run our trucks and equipment safely. When we don’t know exactly who’s going to show up to a fire, you got to be capable of doing multiple things. Also, no we do not have a fire pole, if the kids are wondering. We also do not have a fire dog.”

The Herald asked if they ever considered a firehouse mascot, for themselves.

“Oh, see that would have to go out for a vote. That is a good question, though, and one I don’t really know for sure. Off hand, I'd say it’d have to be a dalmatian. Knowing the guys, however, it could be multiple things and that one’s hard to figure out. Might be a fun question for the committee, might just have to ask them.”

Below is a list of our Firefighting volunteers:

Justin Collins, Tom Dooper, John Eddy, Chantry Filener, Dean Gaukel, Jay Hammond, Duke Lashmett, Shawn Leimser, Doug Lytle, Danny Matney, Mike Mayville, Ryan Meng, Rory Norberg, Jim Pontarola, Brandon Rapp, James Santistevan, Royce Thompson

The Herald and the Lusk community would like to thank them and sincerely give our appreciation and gratitude for their continued efforts and giving back to the community. It is a great pleasure to have them all a part of the town and families. May they remain safe and continue the great work they all love so well.

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