Wearing two hats

What came first -the badge or the fire hose?

For Webster County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Kevin Kruse – who is also the Callender fire chief – the answer is the fire hose.

He joined their volunteer department in 1986 with a desire to serve his community.

“It’s a small town; you pitch in,” he said. “Everybody has to take a role, and that’s the one I took.”

He said things have changed a lot since then.

“You got little training,” he said. “The paging system was a siren and our fire phones, they would ring continuously.”

He said that different sequences of siren blasts indicated whether the call was in town or in a rural area.

The equipment was primitive by the standards of today.

“We had rubber boots and a trench coat,” he said. “We didn’t have bunker gear or anything else.”

In 1991, Kruse was elected fire chief by his fellow firefighters. It was also the year he joined the Webster County Sheriff’s Department as a deputy.

He had served three years before that as a police officer for Callender.

Even as a deputy, he is sometimes called on to use his fire skills.

He filled in to operate a pumper truck on one fire call till additional firefighters got there and recently suppressed a kitchen fire to a manageable level with the homeowners’ garden hose.

The cross training is useful at accidents too.

“You can actually help somebody,” he said. “You know what has to be done.”

Both law enforcement and firefighters share a common goal at the scene of an emergency.

“We pitch in and help,” he said. “We all have our job which is to protect lives and property.”

He said he sees little difference in how those who’ve summoned help respond to either uniform.

“They’re looking for somebody to help,” he said. “They don’t care if you’re the ice cream man.”

One trend that is bothering him is the difficulty in getting enough volunteers to be on the department.

“It’s a huge problem,” he said.

Part of that is the training requirements since the basic Fire Fighter Level 1 course is 105 hours of training.

“That’s just Level 1,” He said.

Once certified, not counting time on calls, a volunteer firefighter will spend eight to 12 hours per month in training and meetings.

He would gladly do it all over again.

“I expect to serve and help the community,” he said.

For Webster County Sheriff’s Deputy April Murray, the badge came before the fire hose.

She began her law enforcement career as a jailer in 2004. She became a deputy in 2007.

Two years ago, she joined the Lehigh Fire Department.

Part of the decision to join up was a family emergency with a potential chimney fire where she watched the firefighters work but could do little herself.

“Some of the guys asked me to join,” she said. “Several months later I decided to.”

She took her Fire Fighter Level 1 course in Jefferson with several other Lehigh firefighters. In addition, there is ongoing training at the department.

Each job requires a different set of responses to the emergency.

“When I go out as a firefighter there are certain things I can’t do,” she said.

Doing a second job requires a high level of commitment.

“You have to have a willingness to give up your free time,” she said.

She said there is a advantage to having experience in both fields. It gives her a much better understanding of both.

Neither field offers much in clothing comfort. Law enforcement officers carry about 30 pounds of gear on their belt and wear body armor known for being hot. A full set of firefighter gear is also heavy and hot.

“I think I’d rather have my work gear,” she said. “The bunker gear can be really hot.”

Both jobs can be physically demanding.

“It’s a matter of taking care of yourself,” she said.

She also enjoys the environment in the fire department.

“The guys are really good here,” she said. “It’s a good environment.”

She does see a little bit of difference in how the public responds to each uniform.

“Sometimes they’re happier to see the Fire Department,” she said. “Firefighters don’t write tickets.”