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Ridgeway Fire Department is a Local Effort

Winneshiek County Community Foundation
November 6, 2017

Mark Carolan has seen a lot in his 31 years as a volunteer fire fighter with the Ridgeway Fire Department. He knows when help is needed the local fire department is often the one to get the call.

“In this area, if someone is in trouble and they don’t know who to send, they send the fire department,” said Carolan, who has been Ridgeway Fire Chief for 11 years. “We fight fire, but we get everything and anything in between from car accidents, to looking for people in the river, to searches for someone in the middle of the night coming out of the woods.”

For a small, rural community like Ridgeway, it is important to be able to respond and to do that takes committed volunteers with equipment they know they can trust. Burned and dirty helmets are no longer a symbol of pride in the firefighting community. Rather, when helmets and other equipment are beat up and warn, it’s a sign that the department needs to invest in safer gear for their volunteers.

This year, with the help of a Winneshiek County Community Foundation grant, the department was able to update the helmets for all 24 of its volunteers, who appreciate the comfort and security of the new gear as they protect the citizens of Ridgeway and surrounding communities.

“We have to update our gear every ten years now. The new helmets clean-up better and are more comfortable, which makes a difference when we are working,” said Carolan. “The guys appreciate getting nice stuff. It boosts moral, and the it is ordered to fit for more comfort and a tighter seal.”

Carolan said the WCCF grant support is important to making sure these types of purchases are possible. The support of the community is also essential.

“We needed this grant because by the time we support workmen’s compensation and maintenance to our building and vehicles, there isn’t much left over, said Carolan. “The community supports us as well, and we do an annual fundraiser, that’s what matched what the Foundation gave us.”

Keeping a local firefighting force is essential to the safety of Ridgeway, and other small communities. Outside support helps keep the department outfitted with gear that allows them to protect their neighbors and keep them safe.

“Cresco and Decorah are the closest departments to us, and they are great, but if someone catches their curtains on fire in Ridgeway it takes them 20 minutes to get here,” said Carolan. “That is a lot of time for that fire to spread. That’s why it’s important for us to maintain a strong group of volunteers who are well-trained and well-equipped.”

This was the first grant application with the WCCF for Carolan who said he was impressed with the process. “It’s nice the Foundation is local, they understand where we’re coming from.”