LYND - They haven't been retired for long. But Ron "Junior" Strom and Don Williams of Lynd say they still have firefighters' reflexes. Williams reacts whenever he hears an emergency responder's pager go off.
"You start grabbing for your belt and (the pager) ain't even there," Williams said.
Strom and Williams retired from the Lynd Volunteer Fire Department in January, each with 38 years of experience. What makes their experience more special, however, is that both were among the charter members of the Lynd department, which officially formed in the early 1970s.
Junior Strom, above, left, and Don Williams were among the local firefighters in a portrait of the Lynd Fire Department.
Technically, Williams said, he and Strom were grandfathered in to the fire department. Lynd did have volunteer firefighters before 1973, but they didn't have a state-certified organization. Strom said it was "before our time," but at one point, the town had just one two-wheeled trailer of firefighting equipment.
Not having an official fire department made things tough, as it meant the firefighters weren't eligible for state aid money. Local residents organized to change that.
"A bunch of guys decided we should have a fire hall, and they called a meeting," Strom said. Residents contributed to help get the department started. Besides residents coming together, the fledgling Lynd Fire Department had some help from former Marshall fire chief and state fire marshal Mel Hardy, Strom said.
"He got us going on that," he said. "It was a big deal," Strom said, to be able to receive state aid for things like better equipment.
At the time, the group of firefighters was "whoever wanted to be on," Strom and Williams said. Officers were elected. "I know I got stuck with secretary real quick," Strom said, laughing. As long as you do a good job as an officer, he said, "Once you get on, you can't get off." Williams said he served as the department's third chief.
Williams said he was interested in being a firefighter partly because he had Navy training in putting out fires, and partly because he had a family member who was also a firefighter.
Strom said he joined the department because, "It seemed like a good idea. Somebody had to do it."
The department started out with a 1941 Ford fire truck, the two men said. Eventually, older trucks were replaced by newer trucks, though they were still used.
"We worked our way up until we got a new one," in 1991, Strom said.
Communication was one thing that really changed for Lynd firefighters during the years.
In the '70s, Strom and Williams said, each firefighter would have a special button on their home phone. In case of a fire, the phone would keep ringing until the firefighter pressed the button. The downside, Williams said, was that you didn't know where the fire was when you checked in.
"And if you weren't in the house, you wouldn't get the call," Strom added.
Often, Strom and Williams said, the hardest part of their job was having to battle the elements. They remembered responding to a fire in the 1980s, at a home located on a windy hilltop in sub-zero temperatures.
"Your clothes would have so much ice on them, you couldn't get out of your coat. You had to go inside and thaw out, or break the ice off," Strom said.
One of the department's old trucks finally gave out that night, too, he said.
Grass fires were another big challenge. You had to keep alert and move quickly, the men said.
"They can turn just like that," Strom said of grass fires.
"You always want to go where it's burned, because wherever's not burned is where the fire is gonna go," Williams said.
The decision to retire was a tough one, the two men said, and one that got them a little friendly "static" from the rest of the department. But, Williams said, it was time.
"It's a job for the younger generation," he said, especially when you need to carry heavy equipment and still move fast.
But in some ways, they said, it's like they haven't left the department. Strom and Williams are still part of the department's annual fish fries, and they're still friends with their fellow firefighters.
"Everyone gets to be pretty good friends on the department," Strom said. "It's a pretty good bunch of guys."
"It was fun," Williams said.