They have fought fires, pumped flooded basements, worked street fairs
and watched more people play bingo than they can count. And, in terms of years of service, five men have been doing all that
for 287 years with the Houston Volunteer Fire Department.
Two of the five, with 114 years of fire fighting experience between them,
continue to suit up and occasionally ride the truck to the scene of a fire.
Ralph Patsch Sr., has been a volunteer fireman for 65 years.He and
his nephew, 72 year old Jack Patsch, still answer the fire whistle.
" If there is nobody else there, I'll suit up.But, if they have enough,
I'll wave them on," Jack Patsch said. He joined the department 49 years ago.
Ralph Patsch, 86, restricts his firefighting to the daylight calls.
" I do whatever they want me to do, like roll up hose or direct traffic.
I'm physically able . I can still breathe and walk and talk and fight fires ," Ralph Patsch said.
After 65 years of fighting fires, Charles ( Lightning) Meddings, 84, is
content to drive in parades, including chauffeuring his fellow firefighters when they served as grand marshals in the Pumpkin
Festival parade Saturday.
Jesse King joined the company in 1951 and is a few months shy of joining
the the oldtimers group.
Meddings was one of the department's first drivers for a simple reason:
he had a driver's license. Clark ( Fat) Welsh was the chief when Meddings joined in 1931. Welsh did not have a drivers license
so Meddings, only 19 years old, was pressed into service to drive the 1928 LaFrance pumper.
Jack and Ralph Patsch are descended from a long line of firefighters and
continued the tradition when they began working at Patsch Garage. When Meddings began to work at the garage, he too joined
We were open 24 hours a day and everybody was a fireman and so, we always
had firemen at the garage," Ralph Patsch said.
Meddings worked nights as a mechanic and emergency dispatcher. " You had
to be a fireman and a policeman and everything. Anybody would call the garage and you'd go blow the fire whistle on top of
the building, or you'd turn on the red light( outside the building to alert the police officer on duty). When I'd blow the
whistle, someone would relieve me and I'd go to the fire hall and drive to the fire," Meddings said.
Driving to the site of a fire involved more than negotiating the narrow
streets of Houston. As one of the oldest chartered departments in the county, Houston firemen often traveled some distance
to fight fires. " We used to be the center of the whole district," said Lloyd Chastel. He has been a member for 55 years.
His younger son, Jack, is president of the Peters Township Volunteer Fire Department.
"I can remember when that whistle would blow three or four times a week,"
Chastel said. If there was a fire in Mt. Pleasant, they'd call a township supervisor and he'd determine if it was bad
enough, and then he'd call Houston and we'd go up, " said 53 year member, Edward Thompson. Mt. Pleasant had to pay Houston
$ 50 for a response. Fire fighting has changed dramatically over the last 50 years. " We'd just turn the water on and
spray it anywhere ," Chastel said. They fought fires before air packs, radios and beepers. " You put a wet handkerchief on
your face and went in, " Meddings said.
" You went in, squirted the hose and then followed the hose back out.,"
Chastel said. Thompson remembers when the department had equipment for only nine men. There were rings at the firehall and
the first nine men who responded, grabbed a ring and got the equipment. The tenth man , in the 20-man department was out of
Ralph Patsch remembers his first uniform - a raincoat, fisherman's
hat and boots. " It's different now," Jack Patsch said. " You have to have air packs to breathe or all those chemicals will
put you to sleep. All agreed that they hated grass fires." We used fire brooms to beat it out," Thompson said. " It was too
much work and too much walking and beating , and it was usually in the summer and it was too warm," Meddings said. None was
ever seriously injured and none regrets the hours spent fighting fires or raising money to buy equipment. None was ever compensated
financially for a single hour, let alone 287 years. All said they would join again. " I very seldom go out now, I miss going
out, you want to be there, but you can't," Meddings said. He passed on his love of firefighting . Son Charles ( Buzz)
Meddings is the president . His grandson, Robb Meddings,is an active member and waiting to join in 14 years, is his great
- grandson, Adam Meddings.