Dolores Fire celebrates a century of service

Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017 6:22 AM
This antique firetruck, owned by the Dolores Fire Protection District, was bought new in Chicago in 1934 and driven across the country by resident Ramona Becher’s family. Her dad, Mory Plumlee, was the fire chief in the 1930s.

The Dolores Fire Department hit a milestone in December with its 100th birthday.

And everybody almost missed it.

Chief Mike Zion said the department discovered the anniversary accidentally while researching its equipment.

“We were kind of surprised to find out we’re at the century mark, so we decided to get some publicity on it,” he said. “We’re all very proud to be a part of it.”

The district was created on Dec. 23, 1916, said EMS Capt. Kim Jones.

“We feel recognition is in order and will be announcing an open house soon to celebrate,” Jones said. “We have come a long way in 100 years.”

In researching the fire district’s early years, Jones spoke with local elder Ramona Becher, whose father, Mory Plumlee, was the Dolores fire chief in the 1930s.

In 1934, Becher recalled, the family traveled to Chicago by train to purchase a new Dodge firetruck for Dolores.

“They drove the open cab truck across the country in stormy weather to get it home to Dolores,” Jones said.

They fashioned a tarp to keep out the weather, and when the chief fell ill, Ramona’s mother, Helen, took over driving.

“That truck was the pride and joy of those volunteers,” Becher said.

Becher recalled two significant early fires, including one at Conoco’s oil and gas bulk plant near First Street in the 1930s. In the 1950s, the fire department fought a large fire that destroyed the old school gymnasium and theater building near Sixth Street.

“The Conoco fire was at night and was very big. My father was burned during that fire,” Becher said.

In the early years, the fire district station shared the Town Hall building. Then in 1986, the a new fire station was erected on the west end of town, where it is today. In 2008, an additional building was added at the station to hold equipment and house the K-9 search and rescue squad. A substation was also built on Road 25 and County Road 33.

Today, Old Engine No. 1 rests in front of the fire station.

The Dolores Fire District now maintains and operates two ambulances, four brush trucks, five tankers, four engines, one heavy rescue and one ladder truck. In 2015, Southwest Memorial stationed an ambulance at the Dolores station to improve medical rescue service in the northern part of the county.

Dolores’ volunteer firefighters elected officers in December, including Dolores Fire Chief Mike Zion, Assistant Chief Jeremy Gonzales, Fire Capt. Terrel Wells, EMS Capt. Jones, safety officer R.J. Cross, and public relations officer Amy Ross.

The district is run by 32 volunteers, who responded to 315 emergencies in 2016. In 2014, there were 270 emergencies.

The fire district covers 346 square miles in northeast Montezuma County. Staff also participate in mutual aid for emergencies in the Cortez, Mancos, Rico and Dolores County fire districts, and are called upon for fires on Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service lands as well.

The Dolores Fire District maintains and operates two ambulances, four brush trucks, five tankers, four engines, one heavy rescue and one ladder truck. Dolores Fire is funded by a 6.052 mill levy that generates approximately $320,000 per year.

The district relies heavily on grants to maintain and upgrade equipment. In 2015, they were awarded an $85,000 grant for a new ambulance. Officials said the current goal is to upgrade firefighter gear, including bunkers and air packs. Long-term goals include replacing aging engines and tankers.

“Our volunteer firefighters work and train hard and are committed to serving and helping our community,” Jones said. “We’re looking forward to an open house so the community can come a look out our station, ask questions, and become aware of what we do and how we do it.” The district is in need of volunteers, Zion added. If interested, show up at the district’s weekly meetings at 7 p.m. at the Dolores fire station.

“We will train you, and volunteers get the excitement and satisfaction of going out on calls and helping people in emergency situations,” he said.

EMS Capt. Kim Jones contributed to this article.