Fifty years of firefighting
By Brian L. Gray
It was 50 years ago, in 1962, that the Mandan Rural Fire Department was formed. The organization, composed entirely of volunteers, started in order to help reduce the response times for people impacted by fires who lived outside of the city limits.
The board was first organized in March 1962 by only three charter members: Emil Kalvoda, Don Shaw and Rodney Love. Today, one of those members continues to serve on the rural fire department board.
Kalvoda, at the age of 83, remains a part of the department as an active member, meeting with the board every month, as he has done for five decades.
Kalvoda was born and raised in Mandan, graduating from Mandan High School in 1947. After graduation, he served in the U.S. Army from 1950 to 1955. After his service, he returned to his home south of Mandan, where he worked as a dairy farmer. Kalvoda retired from farming in 1994.
Kalvoda says the rural fire department was started partly out of frustration. Kalvoda’s uncle’s place had burned down, and it might have been saved if the city fire department had been able to get there in time. But because of the distance between rural residents and the city, the reaction times were too slow for the city department to be effective in firefighting in the less-populated areas.
“Another one of the board members, Rodney Love, watched as his place burned down, too, and the fire department couldn’t make it to his place in time either. He was really upset about it, so we all decided something had to be done,” Kalvoda says.
The rural fire department covers 700 square miles of the rural Mandan area, and fights an average of 60 fires each year.
These days, the board that began with three members has grown to 13 board members and more than 30 firefighters, all of whom continue to volunteer their time and efforts. The department now owns 10 trucks, and has an additional station in Saint Anthony, which opened in 1973.
The department began with a station on Main Street, and moved to its current location, immediately north of Cloverdale in northwest Mandan, in 1978.
And even after 50 years, the fire department continues to grow. In commemoration of its 50th year, the department recently purchased a new fire truck for $90,000. The truck, Mandan Rural Fire Department Chief Lynn Gustin says, is a grass firefighting rig that is able to get to a structure fire quickly. It also contains rescue equipment, with a jaws for life rig that can be used during farm rescues or traffic accidents.
Kalvoda continues to serve on the board because of the pride he feels in what the department has accomplished since 1962.
“I’ve put my share in here, and I’m proud of this fire department and what we do here,” Kalvoda says. “It’s what keeps me going.”
Gustin says Kalvoda has been a helpful asset to the department, and hopes he continues to remain active on the board. “As long as he wants to be here, we’ll continue to have him. His experience and knowledge is very valuable to this department, and we’re happy he’s still a part of it.”