The Slater Fire Department celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. To celebrate, as well as thank the area for the support they’ve shown the department over the years, members are hosting a Centennial Celebration beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 28 at the Slater Fire Station (307 Main St.).
The day will begin with a fire truck parade, followed by water fights for all ages. Inflatables, courtesy of Midwest Inflatables, will be on hand at nearby Nelson Park to entertain younger children. Food and drink will also be available for purchase at the park. That night the department is bringing in live music from Kraft Brothers, The Gustafsons, Death by Monkeys and The Hat Guys, all the way from Chicago.
Like most local fire departments, Slater’s is made up entirely of volunteers from around the area. And, unlike most, this one boasts a waiting list.
"A lot of towns don’t have that luxury," said Jerry Weeks, one of the most experienced firefighters in the department at nearly 39 years.
Just like the firefighters you see on TV or in movies, these brave men and women risk their lives every time a call comes in. Unlike full-time firefighters living their shifts at their stations, these volunteers leave their own beds in the middle of the night to respond to a fire or emergency. The volunteers come from all walks of life — Slater’s department features city workers, IT professionals and farmers among other occupations.
In smaller towns like Slater, Sheldahl and Kelley (the department serves all three communities) the frequency of calls for fires or emergencies is much less than a large city. These firefighters say the adrenaline rush is the same, however, and they sometimes have to battle the urge to jump into action too soon.
"You’re better off taking a minute and not getting caught up [in the excitement of a call]," said Assistant Chief Mark Estrem. "A lot of times you’re not going to save that structure, but there are other structures nearby that you can do something to save. That’s if everyone is out. If there’s still someone in there, that’s a whole different thing."
Estrem and Weeks both noted that the department’s more experienced members take it upon themselves to show the younger or less experienced members procedures for each situation they might encounter. Since calls are relatively infrequent, the firefighters may run into situations that they only see once or twice per decade on any given call.
"You can’t have too big a head when you go to a call, and none of our guys really do," said Estrem. "We all have to know their limits. With how few calls we get, there could be something happening and someone who’s been on the department for five years hasn’t seen it before."
In most fire departments, you can find at least a handful of men whose relatives served their communities in earlier generations. Slater’s unit is no exception, with Chief Doug Nelson a fourth generation firefighter. Many times you’ll find firefighters referring to each other as ‘brother’ even though they are not related.
"These are some of the finest people I’ve ever been associated with," said Weeks.
Slater’s firefighters are proud to help keep their community safe and to be some of the first to lend a hand when needed or to serve in other functions, like helping with Slater’s upcoming sesquicentennial celebration June 28-July 4 weekend.
"At the end of the day, we enjoy helping people," said Estrem. "That’s the best part of being a firefighter."