The Loop Newspaper - Tehachapi's Online Community News & Entertainment Guide

By Susan Wiggins
Mayor Pro Tempore 

Mojave Volunteer Fire Department

A Page of History


I get busy with my duties as the Mayor Pro Tem of Tehachapi and with everyday life and the next thing I know it is time for a column.

I have known for a week that I had to write one, but then life happened, and I found myself scrambling for a topic.

Mother's (Marion Deaver) files never fail to yield something and this time was no exception. I found a press release about the Mojave Volunteer Fire Department.

This brought back all sorts of memories from my childhood growing up in Mojave. My dad Paul Deaver joined the volunteer fire department a year before I was born in 1949. I remember as I grew up that he and the other firemen had regular meetings every second and fourth Tuesday to practice fighting fires, unloading hoses, responding to fires, etc.

The thing I remember most, however, was the fire horn! Every day at noon that horn at the Mojave Forestry Building (where KFC was located later) would blow once to make sure it was in working order, and to let everyone know "it was time for lunch!"

The only people who hated it were the people who worked the "graveyard" shift and were trying to sleep during the day.

The horn would blow a code whenever there was a fire. Each volunteer fireman (and half the town) had a card with the codes and accompanying street addresses so the volunteers would know where the fire was located.

The Kern County Firemen would hit the code and take off to the fire and the volunteers would respond. My dad always had his gear in the trunk and would take off. One of them would respond to the station and pick up the pumper truck and head out also.

My mom would head out with her camera to take photos for the newspaper.

Later in life I had a card because I was now the reporter in the family. We would hear the horn blow and then we would start counting out the code, sort of similar to a Morse code.

Then off we would run, jump in the car, and take off. I had a press pass, and most of the first responders knew me and would let me through the barriers to shoot my photos. The rest of the town would stand and watch.

Such events are a big deal in a small town, especially on a warm summer evening with not much to do.

The talk was always the same: "Is that the Jones house?" "Was anyone home, is everyone all right?" "That old abandoned house was a fire trap anyway..." And so it went, until the flames were out and the firemen finished "mopping up" the fire, One by one everyone sauntered off, to talk about it the next day over coffee.

The Mojave Volunteer Fire Department was created in 1941 by Melvin Smith, who also served as its first chief. It became inactive in 1945, but its "spirit was kept alive by Smith and some of the older members."

In 1949 the department was re-organized and Smith was once again named chief. In later years the department boasted over 18 members. The department had a 1944 Dodge pumper which carried 600 gallons of water, with a 500 GPM pump. The truck carried 800 feet of 2 ½ inch hose.

The department members were on call 24/7 and also responded to the station when the county fire trucks were on a call that did not need the volunteers.

All the volunteers had complete turnouts, including a big helmet. I still have my dad's white helmet and badge that he wore when he served as chief. They also had dress uniforms that they wore for special occasions and photo ops.

The volunteer fire department helped lower local fire insurance rates by providing extra fire protection.

Looking over the roster I think that everyone except maybe one have died, leaving only the memories for their children and grandchildren. Today the Kern County Fire Station in Mojave is one of the busiest in the county, covering vehicular accidents and providing medical aid to the area.

Writing this got my adrenalin going as I remembered everyone rushing off to the fire...and I miss my parents.

But as the last line of the press release said, Old Firemen Never Die, They Just Smoke a Little.


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