Fire Chief Heads 2 Departments— Air Base and Town
“Fire protection is a 24-hour-a-day responsibility,” says Reginald Royer, fire chief at Duluth, Minn., Air Force Base. He means it too, because in addition to his civil service position at the air base, Royer is also fire chief of the nearby Hermantown Volunteer Fire Department.
Reg Royer has been involved in fire fighting for most of his adult life. As a marine in the mid ’40s, he learned to be a rescueman on aircraft carriers. After a brief break in service, he leaned more about fire fighting as a marine in the Korean War.
When Royer came out of the Marine Corps the second time, he moved to Hermantown, where he joined the volunteer fire department in 1954. His military experience helped him land a lineman job in the Duluth AFB Fire Department and four years ago, Royer became chief of the air base department.
The 44 firemen assigned to the Duluth AFB Fire Department are divided into two shifts. During this time they drill, train, attend classes in fire protection and first aid, and perform maintenance functions around the station. The air base department is fully paid, and government-operated.
The Hermantown Volunteer Fire Department is a class 6 department as rated by underwriters.
Royer explained, “We felt that class 6 was the best class we could attain and still remain a strictly volunteer department.”
Three years ago, Royer and Steve Gibson and Bob Vigitorio, also local fire fighters, took a survey of nine surrounding townships to see if there was need for added fire protection. They began groundwork for an organization called the Lakehead Fire Protection District (LFPD).
Can’t support paid force
Royer pointed out, “Our townships aren’t big enough to take on paid men. The tax base is not large enough to support paid or semipaid departments. We felt that if the nine townships banded together into the LFPD, and each paid its share, they could afford the same amount of coverage.”
The plan took three years of donated research and covered such things as a communications system and training facilities.
Although only three of the nine townships have adopted the plan, Royer is determined to keep trying.
According to Royer, the communications system, which all the townships go along with, is going to be ideal. All telephone calls will go to a single 911 answering point. Right now, each town uses its own radio frequency and has a Duluth answering service monitor telephone calls.
Frank Kiernon photo.
Voices need for training
Stressing the need for training, Royer declared, “You have to have training to win over any fire or you’ll make too many mistakes. We take any type of training we can get. For 10 years, I taught for the State Department of Education and Firemanship Training. I used to go within an 80-mile radius of Duluth to teach people.”
Royer got most of his training at Air Force schools. He’s gone to every school he’s ever had an opportunity to attend, and sometimes he was away from home for up to eight weeks. He’s also been to a lot of state fire schools. He brings the knowledge he’s gained back to his people so they learn what he has learned.
Royer explained the training procedures at the air base.
Basic training required
Air Force now has a requirement that any fireman placed in the field must have first gone through basic instruction at Chanute AFB in Illinois. That way he knows what a fire truck looks like, he knows what an ax is, and he knows how to use the basic tools of a fire fighter.
“When he comes to a base he’s automatically given a trainer, someone with more knowledge than he has. Then he goes through his next level of training, which takes up to one year.”
At the Hermantown Fire Department, Royer conducts one 2 1/2 to 3hour training session each month.
Men’s reports taped
“In any emergency involving hankypanky of any kind, before anything cools off, we get a tape from every man on what he saw,” Boyer said. “Nothing is forgotten this way and the tapes are readily available.
“If we run into a fire situation that we haven’t run into before, within 24 hours we’ve got everyone at the station and we go through the situation step by step so each man gets the knowledge that the people on the scene got. It’s a matter of survival in this business.”
Joint training exercies for the air base and the town fire departments are of mutual benefit also. At the air base, the primary function is crash fire fighting and structural fire fighting is secondary. From a training standpoint, thg only way the Air Force can get structural training is with volunteers when they have practice drills. The only way a volunteer can get crash experience is at an Air Force base.
One of the largest problems in fire fighting in Minnesota is the weather.
“The minute the first freeze comes, you have to take extra precautions, even with the equipment,” Royer said.
Although they run their exhaust through heat panels and block the pump in for winter months, the external fittings sometimes have a tendency to freeze when the temperatuie gets around -30 degrees and the wind chill factor drops it down to around -95 degrees. Under these conditions Royer is an advocate of what he calls “pickling the pump.”
“We completely drain it and then put in a small amount of alcohol, mix it with the water residue, and it dries the moisture,” Royer explained.
The fire fighters always carry a 20pound propane tank with a torch in case they get a freeze.
“If we do get a freeze, we torch it, and it’s so cold that it doesn’t even touch the paint,” the chief said. “When we get back to the station, we have an extra large hot water tank and we completely run that thing through with hot water. This is the only way we’ve found to keep pumps troublefree in the winter.”
But whether he speaks as chief of the Hermantown Volunteer Fire Department, or chief of the Duluth Air Base Fire Department, Royer has the same views on fire protection. He believes that when any building is constructed, 10 percent of the cost of construction should be spent on fire protection because, “you can always replace the property but never a life.”