Dennis Lunsford retiring as Medicine Lodge Fire Chief

By Brenda Head
Gyp Hill Premiere – January 2, 2017
Submitted by Newz Group – February 6, 2017

medicine-lodge-fire-262017

“I don’t know where the time went,” declared Medicine Lodge Fire Department Chief Dennis Lunsford. “I guess time flies when you’re having fun.”

Chief Lunsford is officially retiring as MLFD Chief on Thursday, January 5, 2017, after serving in that position for the last 13 1/2 years. Assistant Chief Mark Buck will accept the mantle as Chief at that time.

Dennis Lunsford was born in Medicine Lodge on November 4, 1954 to Everett “Pete” Lunsford (who was raised near 99 Springs) and LaVerne Lunsford (who was raised in Sharon). When Dennis was 8 or 9 years old, his father joined the MLFD. Dennis began attending fire meetings with his dad when Dennis was a mere 10 years old. That sparked in Dennis an interest in firefighting. He graduated from Medicine Lodge High School in 1972 and then took off west where he attended Dodge City Community College for two years. Deciding that college was not for him, he returned to Medicine Lodge.

In 1977, at the age of 23, Dennis joined the Medicine Lodge Fire Department. His dad Pete continued his service to the fire department another to to three years beyond Dennis’ joining. Then Pete retired, having served as a volunteer firefighter for almost a decade and a half. Dennis stayed on with the department.

Dennis was made Assistant Chief under Chief Jerry Bryan and served under him for approximately a year before Chief Bryan passed away on August 4, 2003. Dennis was then made Chief and, as stated above, has served in that position for approximately 13 1/2 years. Upon his retirement, Chief Lunsford will have served as a firefighter for 40 years–all right here in Medicine Lodge.

Because his firefighting service has been volunteer with minimal remuneration, he has, of course, had to maintain a “regular” job. He worked for the Barber County Highway Department for 29 years and has now been running the warehouse for Southern Pioneer for 8 1/2 years.

Having a volunteer department has its challenges; city firefighters have to be folks who spend most of their time in town plus be able to get away from work when a fire call comes in. Since the fellows also have to have regular jobs, finding time to train extensively can also be a challenge. The guys do not really have time to seek certification in firefighting; they receive their training in-house and on the job, and they have done an admirable job. Chief Lunsford stated that they try to keep the city firefighter force at about 15 men. The Chief said that he has always had great guys to work with on the fire department.

He shared that the achievement of which he is probably most proud has been his role in procuring for Medicine Lodge a 2006 Ferrara Quint fire truck with a 77-foot rear-mounted aerial ladder. “It took me a dozen City Council meetings to get it,” he teased. Lunsford coordinated with a company out of Salina to find this particular fire truck. It was a demonstrator with only about 6,000 miles on it, and it was already equipped with everything the Chief would have wanted to order. Chief Lunsford revealed that it was a very good thing that the city purchased the fire truck when it did because the next year brought a change in emission standards which would have upped the price substantially–probably by about $30,000–over the $450,000 to $460,000 actually paid.

The Chief could not help but brag on the Quint, and rightly so. The truck has capabilities beyond the basic hauling and pumping of water, and transporting personnel and equipment. The pump and nozzle can pump up to 1,250 gallons per minute. The 77-foot aerial ladder is made up of three sections and has solid plumbing that extends the length of the ladder; it has nozzles at the top of the sections so that water may be sprayed or streamed from whichever level is best for the situation. For instance, if addressing fire at the top of a 2-to-3-story building, water output would likely be from the top nozzle. Alternatively, if needing to rescue one or more individuals from an upper story, water output could instead be sprayed from the nozzle at the top of the second section (the rescue position) to keep the fire below the imperiled individual at bay while he or she is extracted. The nozzles on the ladder can be controlled from the top or the bottom. The controls can make the nozzle turn left or right, or can change from spray to stream or vice versa.

Another accomplishment that Chief Lunsford is pleased to have been a part of was the implementation about a decade ago of the Fire Pup Program which supplies educational materials for students from preschool through 8th grade during Fire Awareness Week. The Chief said that individual citizens and local businesses have been great about donating to the program (in fact, he said that about 90% of the local businesses have donated).

Chief Lunsford was quick to praise the City Council for its commitment to the safety of the people of Medicine Lodge and of its firefighters. He said that besides the Ferrara Quint fire truck, the City Council has been good to provide updated equipment when needed. Lunsford related that one year 4 or 5 air packs failed; so that year the city bought 10 air packs (which included a helmet, mask, and hood and could provide 30 minutes of air in a fire) at a cost of $6,000 each. Then about two years ago, the city purchased additional gear at a cost of $1,000 per person.

Chief Lunsford recalled a couple of memorable events.

The first story related to a fire that occurred in the early to mid 1990s. The Schiff cabinetry shop, then located north of the Peoples Bank caught fire. Anthony, Harper, and Kiowa Fire Departments were called in to aid the Medicine Lodge Fire Department in extinguishing the fire. The structure was a brick building, but the contents were a total loss. Lunsford was surprised that the adjoining furniture store was not destroyed but sustained only smoke damage.

The other story was of a fire that occurred in July of 2009. A building had caught fire on Main Street in Anthony. About mid-morning, Anthony requested manpower from Medicine Lodge; then around 1:00 to 2:00 p.m., they made a follow-up request for equipment assistance. Anthony ended up losing two to three buildings in that fire.

Of course, the Chief was asked about the Anderson Creek Fire of 2016. He responded that the MLFD did not really get in on that, as they are required to keep a certain amount of resources available within the city at all times. When it looked like the fire was getting close to Medicine Lodge, however, about a half-dozen of the MLFD volunteers who also serve the rural fire department were called out around 4:00 to 4:30 p.m. to keep watch around the Co-op and Jayhawk Supply. He marveled that given the size and intensity of the fire, the influx of out-of-town departments, the conditions under which personnel had to fight the fire (such as fighting the fire at night in the uneven terrain of Gyp Hills), there was no loss of human life nor, to his knowledge any substantial injury. Amazing!

“All in all, we’ve been very lucky fire-wise,” Lunsford concluded. “We have averaged about 12 to 15 fires per year–from grassfires to grease fires to folks smelling smoke and having it checked out.”

The Chief was very somber, however, as he recalled the two fatalities that occurred during his now 40 years of firefighting.

Asked about what has changed since he first began firefighting, Lunsford responded that there have been innovative upgrades made to equipment to better the firefighters’ odds. Another improvement has been the addition of a foaming agent to the water; in oil fires the water with the foaming agent does not merely run off, and in house fires, it stays on the wood a little longer.

Now that he is retiring from the MLFD, he and his Sharon native wife, Gayle (Theis) Lunsford, will have more time to enjoy their four children and eight grandchildren. Their favorite pastime is watching their grandkids, as well as their nieces and nephews, play sports and participate in other school events. Lunsford also said he enjoys keeping up the house and the yard, as well as getting in a little fishing now and then.

When asked if he had a message that he wanted to convey to the community, Chief Lunsford replied, “I have enjoyed working for the community. I hate to give it up, but my body just can’t do what it used to do. It’s time.” Then he added. “I’m still around if the fire department ever needs my help.” He also wanted to express appreciation to those who have served on the City Council through the years, as they have always been very supportive. And last, but certainly not least, he wanted to let the firefighters know how much he has enjoyed his relationship with each of them very much.

Finally, as he pondered his years of service, Chief Lunsford said wistfully that he would sure miss regularly going to the firehouse. Then flashing a grin, he quipped, “But I won’t miss those 2 a.m. calls!”

Thank you, Chief Lunsford, for serving Medicine Lodge all these years! Enjoy your retirement–you certainly deserve it!

 

Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
http://www.ksffa.com
KSFFA’s Fire News Blog Home Page

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