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South Minden Fire Department throws party in honor of 50th anniversary

Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - Updated: 10:00 AM

By JOSHUA THOMAS

C-S-E Editor

SOUTH MINDEN -- The South Minden Fire Department celebrated their 50th anniversary on Saturday afternoon, holding a free party as a way to give back to the community. Neighboring departments from Fort Plain and Canajoharie came out to celebrate, as did the LifeNet Chopper, GAVAC/SAVAC and community members.

"The department was originally just a dream of five different guys," commented one-time chief Richard Rockwell, who served as chief for the company following his father, Sherman Rockwell, one of the men who helped found the department, then serving as chief for over 32 years. Richard's son, Duane Rockwell, recently celebrated his tenth anniversary as fire chief, and is now in his eleventh year in the position.

The five original department members, Sherman Rockwell, Fred Wood, Fred Lawyer, Virgil Hazzard and Garrett Smith saw a 1927 Sanford truck sitting in a junk yard one day, "and wanted to buy it and keep it on the hill just in case of a fire," said Rockwell. Their research led them to understand that they wouldn't officially be able to fight fires unless they started a fire company, so conversations with the town board took place over the course of 1962-1963.

The department was officially incorporated in August of 1964.

"When they first incorporated, there was approximately 35 members, and over the years, that has remained pretty stable," said Rockwell, noting that the department currently has 35 members again.

The original meetings were held in the Salt Springville School, until in 1967, when a four acre plot of land was given to the department by Horatio and Reba Trumbull, who had previously allowed them to store vehicles in their garage. A firehouse was constructed and opened in October, 1967, where they remained for over thirty years until they moved into the current building in September, 1998 (they broke ground on the current building in 1997).

The South Minden Fire Department is still in possession of the well-preserved 1927 Sanford truck, which was originally purchased by the village of Cherry Valley in December of 1927 for $7,400. When the Minden men came across the vehicle in a junk yard, they only paid $200 for the truck, which is now kept in its own specially constructed building on the current property.

30 years ago last April, the department fought one of their most notable fires during a big cocaine bust that remains infamous today. "That was very memorable," said Rockwell, explaining that he and current St. Johnsville Mayor Bernard Barnes arrived on scene first, called from a regular meeting, noticing that a trailer was on fire.

Rockwell also noticed something unusual attached to the trailer — two huge air conditioning units. "I can remember that night, thinking to myself, that was strange. Why these huge air conditioning units?"

"As the night progressed, we realized what we had."

Current Fire Chief Duane Rockwell said he felt "amazed" to be part of such a monumental occasion, and to be a part of the department's celebrated history. When asked what his proudest accomplishments were, he humbly answered, "everything is a department achievement -- everything we set out to do. Everything is a decision process. From buying a new truck, to getting our contract raises -- it's done as a department. I don't take sole credit for anything."

In his time as chief, Duane said, "We updated all of our fleet, all our personal protective gear over the past eleven years, and we're debt free. We only owe three more years on the building, but we've paid off all of our bills."

Watching two men he looked up to pave the way, Duane said, "I always knew I wanted to be in the department, but I never knew I would be the chief. I never, as a kid, even imagined I'd be in this position," filling the shoes of two great men, furthering a family legacy that has now successfully endured for three generations.

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