Dean Kreger laughs about the time he and his wife went to pick up a few things from the store on a summer Sunday afternoon. When they got home an hour later, they had a house and yard full of people--mostly members of the Morris Volunteer Fire Department.
Its not an uncommon occurrence. The Volunteers are a close-knit group and they gather together frequently to share a meal, makes plans for the next fundraiser, play volleyball, or, as they have over the past several months, work on the impressive addition to the firehouse.
“ It’s kind of a community center,” says Kreger, who’s been fire and ambulance chief here for about 27 years.” The kids take care of it. We had 20 kids in there playing basketball.
“ Our company’s always been like this. If we want something we come home, do a little figuring, and so it ourselves. We kind of put our heads together.”
Members of the Morris Fire Department and the Ambulance Association are a busy bunch. They went on 314 ambulance runs last year and responded to 160 fire department calls. There is a wall of awards in the fire hall, all testimony to the members’ dedication.
“ There’s close to something every say, but it goes in streaks, “ Kreger says. “ Our (ambulance) response time is one of the best.
There were eight calls or “tones” one day recently, a mixture of everything from mutual aid, fire, trees down, and a medical helicopter transport. In the members’ spare time, they’re planning, arranging, and working at a variety of major fundraisers including the Rattlesnake Hunt, Old Home Days, the gun show ( which, by the way, went from 40 to 80 tables this year), and a craft show.
The ambulance company covers Morris, Duncan, and part of Liberty and Elk townships in Tioga County, plus Pine and portions of Cogan House and Brown townships in Lycoming County. The fire department covers all of that as well, with the exception of Liberty township, and even has a substation in Cogan House. Kreger estimates the coverage area to be about 80 square miles.
How does this group of volunteers do it? “ the members all take pride in what they do,” says Kreger. “ It’s not my company, it’s theirs. People see a need for something and do it. We have a lot of husband and wife teams.”
A critical component of any fire department or ambulance company is having members with the required training.
“I’m proud of them ( the members),” Kreger comments. “ They just seem willing to take the courses.”
Of the approximately 76 members in the ambulance association, for example, 61 are EMTS and nine are First Responders. Most volunteers are members of both organizations. Volunteer Fire and Rescue departments also obviously are dependent on the availability of members to respond to calls. Several of the most frequent responders for Morris are retired, and so are able to take calls which might otherwise have to be covered by another department.
“ The retired people make a big difference in the ambulance service,” notes Kreger. Plus, he says the two groups are “ really not hurting for personnel like a lot of companies are.”
A few local residents formed the fire department in 1946, and from there the town and the township people picked it up, Kreger relates.
The ambulance association will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year.
“We’ve had our good years and our bad years,” says Chief 15. “We’ve got ours (departments ) straightened out. There are no hostilities here.”
People with training also need equipment and Kreger is justifiably proud of what Morris has by way of trucks, ambulances, radios, and what he jokingly calls the “specialty toys.”
That equipment includes two six-wheelers, a four-wheeler, two Hovercrafts and a jet ski. The jet ski was obtained through a free program, he notes. And as a great deal of their coverage area is state forest land, including sections of the Pine Creek gorge, the other “toys” do come in handy. The Hovercraft was even on CNN (news channel) once as volunteers had taken it, by request, to help out with the flood in Altoona.
The departments also have five fire-fighting units and two ambulances, plus two fire trucks and one rescue unit at the Cogan House substation. The newest addition to the fleet is a used firetruck purchased for the department by the McCarthy Foundation, a.k.a. Bob and Nina McCarthy.
Surprisingly for a nearly 50-year-old organization and another that is 25, two of the most memorable responses took place just recently-the fire at Ski-Sawmill and the hay wagon hit-and-run that resulted in serious injuries to a 13 year old boy.
“Had that truck been into the wagon a little more……,” Kreger muses. “ Nobody stopped to think of the magnitude of what could have happened.”
The Ski Sawmill fire, “ one of the largest losses we’ve ever had,” could have been much worse. Kreger praised the adult chaperones in charge of the youth group staying at the facility that evening for making sure all the kids were accounted for and safe.