If you’re a current subscriber, log in below. If you would like to subscribe, please click the subscribe tab above.
Username and Password Help
By LeAnn R. Ralph
BOYCEVILLE — The Boyceville Community Fire Department is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and will be the Grand Marshals in the Boyceville Cucumber Festival Parade at beginning at 1 p.m. Sunday.
The Boyceville fire department has been housed in the new fire station on Charlotte Street since 2020.
Before that the fire department was located in what is now the Boyceville Public Works Department on Center Street.
And before that — at the very beginning, in 1931 — the fire department was located in a small storage room in the municipal building downtown when the fire department only had ladders and buckets to fight fires, and then later on, in 1948 after an addition was built, the fire department was located in what is now the Boyceville police station.
From the publication “Boyceville Area Centennial 1860 to 1960”:
“After several large fires, the school in 1921, the opera house in 1928, the feed mill or elevator in 1930, the village board appointed Clifford Hayes and Walter Clough to buy firefighting equipment, consisting of ladders and pails. In 1931, the municipal hall was built, replacing the opera house, and a small storage room was added by the rear of the building to hold the equipment. With this action, a volunteer fire department came into being. During the time that Ralph Hunt, W.C. Dubisar, Norman Bodette, and Winfield Mirow were on the village board, a chemical tank, hauled by men, was purchased and served Boyceville for many years.
“In 1946, the village voted to install a water system. The work was completed in 1947. Walter Clough, president of the board, issued a referendum for a fire department, consisting of a two stall building and a modern fire truck. It was voted down in the first voting, but when repeated six months later, it passed by 17 votes. Charles Stone of Stone Auto Sales presented the village with a Ford chassis for the truck, which gave the new department the needed lift toward its goal of meeting all requirements as set forth by the Fire Rating Bureau.
“In 1948, 24 men signed as members and held an election at which time Ernest Fennie was chosen as chief, Marvin Yunkers as first assistant chief, Alfred Riek second assistant chief. Walter Johnson was elected secretary and treasurer. The original members were Glenn Evenson Arvid Dettman, Douglas McIntyre, Thomas Brezina, Francis Peterson, Ernest Fennie, Bernard Nelson, Edwin Evenson, Marcel Bolta, Clarence Tape, George Grutt, Chester Burton, Herman Harry, J.U. Bosshart, Walter Johnson, Alfred Riek, William Bisson, Gay Ziesldorf, Gale Spielman, Sam Jurkovic, Charles Stone, Frank Albert, Lyle Hight, Lee Scribner, Dick Joles and Fred Clark.”
“Boyceville Area Centennial 1860 to 1960” goes on to say:
“The insurance rating bureau was notified by the village clerk, William Bisson, and the village was inspected. The village had been in a class 10, but with the fire protection Boyceville now enjoyed, it was put in a class seven, thereby reducing the insurance rates by 55 percent.
“To further progress and give fire protection to surrounding rural areas, the village and townships formed an alliance. The townships affected in this agreement were Tiffany, Hay River, Sherman, Stanton, New Haven, and the Village of Wheeler. Later they saw the need, and more equipment, including two 1000 gallon tank trucks, a front mount pump, a portable pump and 1000 feet of hose was added.
“Also in 1959, the rating bureau again inspected our fire department, finding it in better condition, and with more equipment, and so reduced the village to class six. At present, we enjoy the lowest fire rate in this area.
“Also in 1959, the Boyceville firemen purchased a resuscitator and an extra oxygen tank, which is being used in this entire area. Specially trained men respond to calls of people suffering from heart attacks. In the latter part of 1959, an emergency vehicle, a Chevrolet panel, was added to the department, which now carries all emergency equipment, such as resuscitator, oxygen tank, stretchers, blankets, and other necessary articles. At present, the Boyceville fire department is proud of its four vehicles responding to fire calls and emergencies.”
First fire chief
“Dad talked about Ernie Fennie and what a good chief he was. I don’t know where he learned his stuff,” said Wayne Dow, director of the Boyceville ambulance service.
Wayne’s dad, Herb Dow, served on the fire department for many years and was fire chief for 10 years. Herb also was a founding member of the Boyceville ambulance service.
“As a career firefighter, you’d read things and say something to Dad, and he’d say — ‘Oh yeah, Ernie was doing that way back then.’ Keeping up with the knowledge of firefighting in the 1940s and ‘50s when there was no knowledge was pretty impressive,” Wayne Dow said.
“If you look at their old training records and some of the training they did. First aid training and oxygen training and equipment. Air packs. At that time, there was only two. Not like now where everybody has one,” he said.
The people who have served as fire chiefs for the Boyceville Community Fire Department are Ernie Fennie, Doug McIntyre, Joe Myers, Morris Evenson, Herb Dow, Dale Mounce, Brian Marlette, Cory Green, and Matt Lunderville, Wayne said.
“I can’t say enough about Ernie. Before the fire truck, it was buckets and ladders. And they had the pull chemical extinguisher,” he said.
“Ernie was in his 70s and still helping out the fire department,” Wayne said.
First fire engine
Colfax resident Don Fennie recalled his dad’s role in obtaining the first fire engine for the Boyceville fire department.
“The first fire truck in Boyceville was donated by Chuck Stone, who was the Ford dealer. Chuck said he would donate a fire truck if the fire department could get the money for the equipment to go on the fire truck,” Don said.
After Ernie Fennie and the fire department raised enough money for the equipment, Ernie went back to Chuck Stone and asked for the fire truck, and Chuck donated it, Don Fennie recalled.
Don said that his dad always went to the Heart of the North meetings where they would discuss fire tactics and learn about other fire tactics.
It was there that Ernie learned about “Wetter Water,” too, an additive mixed into water that creates a higher evaporation temperature and cuts down the time needed to knock down a fire by as much as 30 percent.
“He was proud of his department, and he worked hard on it,” Don said, adding that his dad spent time reading up on other fire departments and what they were doing to fight fires.
“He really believed in (the fire department),” he said.
When the fire department had a fire truck and better equipment, then everyone’s insurance rates decreased, Don noted.
At one point, Ernie Fennie went to a fire and passed out.
Doug McIntyre, who served as the second fire chief in Boyceville, thought Ernie was dead at first. When he determined Ernie was not dead, McIntyre gave him oxygen and brought him back around, Don said.
Ernie had open heart surgery in Rochester, Minnesota, at a time when open heart surgery was in its infancy, and because Ernie owned a gas station, the local newspaper in Boyceville said Ernie Fennie had gone to Rochester “for a valve job” because during the surgery, the doctors replaced a valve in his heart, Don said.
After the heart surgery, Ernie Fennie lived an additional 17 years, he said.
Another detail Don Fennie recalled involved clothing.
One of the firemen, a Mr. Windsor, came to Ernie and said he was going to quit the fire department because of all the ruined clothes from fighting fires and that he could not afford to keep replacing his clothing, Don said.
That’s when the fire department started helping firefighters replace their clothing, he said.
Wayne Dow talked about a firefighter named Lee Windsor who had gone back into a house that was burning in Boyceville, located across the street where the school is now, and that the firefighter had gone back into the house many times to rescue children who were in the house. One child died in that fire.
“My mom and dad rode in the (Boyceville centennial) parade. Dad did not want to grow a beard, but he had a mustache … and the women wore their (pioneer) outfits,” Don Fennie said.
“He was very proud of the town’s accomplishments,” he said.
When the kids needed an ice rink, that was part of the fire department’s job to haul water for the ice rink. The firemen would work to make sure there were ball teams for the kids to play on. One year, there were not enough kids, so Glenwood City and Boyceville worked to put a team together, Don said.
Lyle Hight was an important part of the fire department too. He had an airplane, Don said, recalling that he went up in the airplane with Hight, hit an air pocket and the plane dropped.
Although Don had been thinking about taking flying lessons, he said that was enough for him and wanted his feet to stay firmly on the ground after that.
“Herb was a dedicated fireman,” said Shirley Dow, Herb’s wife.
Herb Dow, who served on the fire department for years and served as the fire chief for 10 years, passed away at the age of 90 in December of 2019.
“Herb stayed interested in (the fire fighting and ambulances) even after he was retired. The last thing he said to me is, ‘I want to be buried in my firemen’s shirt,’” Shirley said.
Herb joined the fire department in 1960, and at the time, the Dows lived downtown in a house on the corner of Tiffany Street and state Highway 79. They moved to the house where Shirley still lives on East Street (north on Highway 79) in 1968.
Ernie Fennie owned the gas station on Main Street.
“Ernie was the chief. He had a phone there. When someone called in, it rang steady. The first person to the fire department blew the siren and blew it five times. Most (of the firefighters) in those days lived in town,” Shirley said.
At that time, there were all kinds of businesses in Boyceville — the lumberyard., the feed mill, many different stores, car dealerships, garages, she said.
And all of the businesses were willing to let the firemen out of work so they could fight fires.
“We had a lot of businesses in town where people worked, so they could go out on the fires. Now hardly anybody works in town. So now they have to call for help,” Shirley said.
Herb Dow was a milk hauler.
“When he had the milk route, he would haul water to a fire because they didn’t have equipment in the fire department to haul water. It was different then. They have tankers now and can call for mutual aid,” Shirley said.
When Herb was asked to go to work for the Village of Boyceville as the director of public works, he was required to be the fire chief. It was in his job description to be the fire chief, she said.
“They started putting in fire phones. Maybe 10. The phone would ring steady until someone answered it,” Shirley said.
“I can remember going out on fires with him in the milk truck. He would drop his load of milk at the creamery, and he’d fill it up with water, and away we’d go, and he’d say, ‘stay in the truck.’ He’d dump a load and then go back to his milk route,” Wayne said.
“I remember going up Corkscrew Hill in the old ’48 Ford for a grass fire. He took me with because the siren was a foot-feed on the officer’s side. So as a little kid, I could reach that,” he recalled.
“The equipment has changed so much. Those guys were basically fighting fires with rubber coats on and plastic helmets. The old ’48, I don’t know what the pump capacity was, but nothing like today where you’ve got 2,000 gallon a minute pumps. They talked about buying a thousand feet of hose. That’s not a lot of hose,” Wayne said.
The fire department bought a vehicle for Ernie Fennie as the fire chief to take home so he could respond in the community and could set up a command before the fire truck got there. That’s one of the progressive things they did for fighting fires, he said.
“When the feed mill was on fire, Ernie stood behind Herb and told him what to do,” Shirley said, noting how much Herb had appreciated the help and guidance.
“There were always dead spots in the county where the radios did not want to work. Unfortunately, we still have dead spots in the
county where the radios don’t work. They are the same dead spots Dad had in the ‘80s,” Wayne said.
“Dad was an assistant chief when they got the ’69 pumper. They tasked him in the ‘60s to make adapters for the milk trucks, the bulk trucks, to haul water. He bought more air packs. He got the rescue squad to bring the jaws with. They added a tender at that time too. And added the ambulance in 1974,” he said, pointing out that the Boyceville ambulance service will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.
Both the fire department and the ambulance service in Boyceville are organized as districts.
“Dad did not talk a lot about the fires. The one he always regretted not going to was a fire in Otter Creek. It came in as a fire phone call. Colfax’s fire jurisdiction. He said, ‘You need to call Colfax’s fire phone system,’” Wayne said.
“He did not send Boyceville’s fire department, although he knew it would be needed. Fifteen minutes later, Colfax called for assistance. He always regretted it. Realistically he knew the house would have burned anyway,” he said.
Years ago, there were many barn fires. The fires often were started by spontaneous combustion of hay in the summer or lightning strikes.
“They lost a lot of barns and houses too. They didn’t have training then like they do now,” Shirley said.
“There used to be many chimney fires. Now they have wood furnaces outside. They don’t have near the fires now that they did then. Maybe people were more careless,” she said.
“And they used to have a lot of swamp fires that burned all winter. They were peat (moss) fires. I don’t think they have so many swamp fires now,” Shirley said.
And there was one memorable large grass fire on state Highway 170.
“Now the state puts out the burn bans. It used to be the individual chief’s responsibility to issue the burn bans in their area, and to issue the burning permits,” Wayne said.
“They have better training now. Some of the fires they had back then, if they had what they have now, they could have put it out,” Shirley said.
“Time is always your enemy on a fire. Takes a while to notice the fire. Then to call 911. Then to page it out. Then the response time depends on where you live. The size of a fire doubles every minute,” Wayne said.
“Businesses used to be able to send two or three people out on a fire and still keep their businesses open. Who has that nowadays?” he asked.
“Dad had a couple of train derailments at Wheeler and Boyceville. Thankfully it was just potash. The trains would start a fire, and you’d have Boyceville, Glenwood City, Colfax, Menomonie — many departments out there fighting the grass fires,” Wayne said.
The Dows’ garage got hit by lightning one time, too.
Wayne and Herb were both up and about and could smell something burning.
“Finally I looked over at the garage and asked him if he had turned the outside light on. He said no. And I said — well, then the garage is on fire,” Wayne said.
“I called the number, and you could hear all the clicks, but nobody was answering, and I finally said, ‘Is anybody going to pick this up?’ And Jack Harvey spoke up, and you could hear Dad in the background, ‘Get a bucket! Get a bucket!’ That was the most excited I’d ever heard him,” he said.
Anyone who knew Herb Dow knows he was the very definition of calm and patient.
There was one time when a man called in and said he had a “bon fire.” Turned out, he was saying “barn fire,” Wayne said.
“I remember there was one month, Herb was on 30 times. They’re short now, but there were times they were short then, too,” Shirley said.
One fire occurred on the opening day of fishing season in May, and since most of the firemen went fishing, that meant they were short on people to respond to the fire.
“You have to be dedicated to do this. People like to go nowadays and do their own thing,” Shirley said.
“And for quite a while it was all volunteer and no pay,” she added.
After a call would come in on the fire phone, then the siren would be blown five times for a fire. Blowing the siren three times was for the ambulance after Boyceville got an ambulance in 1974, Wayne said.
“If there was a tornado watch we had to blow the siren three times. And then when it was all over a short burst,” Shirley said.
Before GPS, there were times when Glenwood City would come for mutual aid, “and they’d be told to come to the fire station and then there would be someone they could follow who knew how to get to the fire. I was one of the people who would lead them to the fire,” Wayne said, noting that it was better to have someone lead the way for some locations rather than try to give directions.
“A lot of the fires were at night. A lot of chimney fires,” Shirley said.
“I went out with Dad to one on O. Chimney was red and warm, but they didn’t want the fire department, and (the fire) was not outside the chimney,” Wayne said.
“I grew up in Connorsville, and a neighbor always had chimney fires. Dad would go and help. They had big chains they used. They didn’t have a fire department. The house is still standing,” Shirley said.
“They used go up on the roof with the chains and drop them down (into the chimney), and put fire extinguisher chemical down them,” Wayne said.
“I was a teenager answering the fire phone,” he noted.
“A lot of them were scared to answer,” Shirley said.
“Sometimes, somebody would leave the fire phone not hung up, so the phones were locked out so you couldn’t call 643-2141, so then Dad would get hold of Laverne Hoitomt, and we’d go in there with Vern, and we’d try the Knops house, the Harvey house (try all the houses), and then we’d eventually find out which one had the phone off the hook, and then he would hang it up for them in the building,” Wayne said.
“Vern was very good about coming down for that,” he added.
“They rolled the fire truck once in town, coming around a corner,” Shirley recalled.
“They lost a hose load once, too, taking a corner too fast,” Wayne said.
The fire siren sat on top of the village hall until lightning struck it.
“I teased the librarians about the little door in the entryway It was the timer control for the fire siren. We’d have to reset it,” Wayne said.
Before the 911 system came into use in the mid-1990s, the fire department began using pagers to page out firefighters to a fire call.
There were two or three people who would take the calls on a fire phone and would then page out the firefighters.
“We had to stay home all the time and take turns going. We did dispatch for the fires,” Shirley said.
“I remember when the Diamond Club burned near Menomonie. Had pagers then. It was Pickle Fest, and the police chief pulled over the firemen going to the fire because he thought someone was stealing the fire engine. The firemen were not too pleased. I am surprised they stopped. (The police chief) was so used to hearing siren blow and had not heard the siren,” Wayne said.
“I remember an ambulance call when I was not an EMT. I answered the fire phone. I paged it out. I blew the siren. Then I went down to drive the ambulance. You were on your way to Clarence’s. Dad said, ‘He’s alone.’ And came back,” Wayne said.
“Story of my life,” Shirley said.
“It seemed like every time we were going to go someplace, it was either fire or ambulance. I went by myself a lot … we were all ready to go out (on our 25th wedding anniversary) and the fire phone rang. The feed mill was on fire. So we didn’t go,” she said.
“We’d have to call each other for the pagers. They’d call and say, ‘We’re going to Menomonie. We won’t be here.’ Or we’d be going to Menomonie so they’d have to stay home. I worked at the school,” Shirley said.
“It was demanding. We went to church one time and there was an ambulance call, and Herb got up and left, and one lady said, ‘Why do you put up with that?’” Shirley said.
“Christmas one year at grandma’s, Dad and I both got up and left,” Wayne said.
“And she asked, ‘Why do they have to go?’ And I said, ‘Be thankful it’s not us,’ She had a fit,” Shirley said.
“It used to be the dirtier they got at a fire, the more proud they were. Now we know they are just exposing themselves to more cancer. They’d come out, and they would have melted their shield. Back then, when those guys were fighting fires, they used their ears. If their ears were too hot, they knew it was time to get out of there. They were holding their breath, too, and trying to breathe down near the floor,” Wayne said.
“I remember there were a couple of times they parked the engine too close to the fire and melted the headlights,” he said.
“We had a challenging life,” Shirley said.
“Technology has changed everything,” she said.