Jasper fire department celebrates 125 yearsJanuary 14, 2021
By CHRISTINE STEPHENSON
JASPER — When Fire Chief Kenny Hochgesang started working for the Jasper Volunteer Fire Department 38 years ago, he was still working for his family’s bakery down the road. Whenever he’d get a page about a fire, he’d drop whatever he was doing and head over to the station, often leaving one of his brothers to watch the bread or baked goods he left in the oven.
The Jasper Volunteer Fire Department celebrated its 125th anniversary Wednesday. Hochgesang has been chief for 21 years and is only the 15th chief in all the department's years. Aside from him, there is only one other previous chief alive and only a handful of people who can remember the station from decades ago with such clarity.
The Sixth Street station’s walls are lined with photos of firefighters throughout the years, dating back to the early 1900s, plaques honoring those who have died while on staff, and photos that show what firetrucks used to look like when the department first formed — back when firefighters used wooden ladders and listened for a whistle blown or bell rung that could be heard throughout town that alerted them to fires before pagers existed.
In 1929, the department purchased a firetruck for about $6,400, Hochgesang said. Now, trucks usually cost more than $500,000.
A commemorative book combining articles and photos from The Herald, including a copy of the first ordinance that established the department in 1896, was put together with help from the library in 1996.
It shows a fire that destroyed the main plant of the Jasper Woodworking Company, which was operated along the Old Huntingburg Road, in 1971. It shows stories of firefighters extracting people from sewer pipes and totaled cars. It shows photos of Santa riding in the fire truck through a parade and photos of firefighters resting at the station, covered in soot after returning from duty.
The fire departments in Dubois County now have about 300 firefighters in total, including 38 at the Jasper department. They all work on a volunteer basis, often working other jobs during the day or night. The Jasper department has never employed a woman as a firefighter, but Hochgesang said he knows the time will come soon.
Throughout the years, equipment has drastically improved and training protocols have been adjusted to adapt to houses that are built differently, such as those with pre-engineered lumber, which burns faster and can cause a quicker collapse. The staff changes, too, and so does the city itself.
But Hochgesang still loves his job, he says, because at its core, the job is still about protecting people.
“A lot of stuff has changed over the years,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we still do the same thing.”
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