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Camp Meeker Beat - May 2016

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Camp Meeker Beat - May 2016

by Tom Austin

The balmy breezes of summer are starting to make their appearance. Spring’s plum blossoms have flowered and fallen. Bathers once again brave the warming waters at Monte Rio, with (so far) a lustrous Russian River pushing healthy water levels past the beach. 

What does summer mean for Camp Meeker? You yourself will help answer that question when you walk down the hill to the Camp Meeker VFD’s annual Pancake Breakfast on Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, this year on Sunday the 29th of May. You don’t need me to tell you of the delights awaiting, but tell you I will regardless. You’ll buy your ticket, along with some extra raffle tickets and perhaps a mimosa, and get in line in front of our hardy fire fighters dropping pancakes on the high-tech rotating grill, a perennial feature of VFD breakfasts west county wide since oh, the 1904 State’s fair. From there your mouth will water at the fluffy fresh eggs and steaming sausage patties piling on your plate before taking a seat at one of the tables in the spotless VFD garage and looking around to see which neighbors will have chanced to be your breakfast companions on the day. Your little ones, of course, will wolf down their plates at trencherman speed so they can go play in the bouncy house or catch a glimpse of Sparky the Wonder Dog in his Dalmatian-spotted finery. 

Then, having sated yourself on neighborhood gossip and one, or two, or three stacks of soggies and scrambled eggs, (you modestly hold yourself to two servings of sausage, ‘for your health.’ Gosh, look at those shiny fire engines! It’s clear that the VFD has been taking their spit-and-polish detail seriously. As they say in the Navy: “Work it may, shine it must.” Now a quick shopping tour of the merch tables. Maybe you’ll take home a VFD hoodie, or a VFD coffee cup, or gosh knows what all else. Certainly you get to take home that Camp Meeker VFD wine glass – one more and you complete the set!

This is as close as you will get to a time machine: Camp Meekerites have been gathering at the annual Pancake Breakfast since – gosh, since when? I truly wonder. We know that there was a sizable population as far back as 1877, when the railroad came through. Mostly lumberjacks and mill workers at first, and then a growing cadre of sightseers from the big City by the bay. They didn’t form a VFD right away, probably – Santa Rosa didn’t have a Fire Department until 1858, and that one didn’t take (probably because Santa Rosa was busy contesting the Civil War with neighboring Petaluma. See, Santa Rosa was settled by a bunch of Missourians starting around 1852, and with those southern sympathies they tended to support the Confederates, while Petaluma was for the Union. The 1858 Santa Rosa VFD effort sputtered out, and they took another crack at it in 1861 or 62. This time it took, and Santa Rosa eventually had a professional fire department by 1894, a good thing considering the massive earthquake of 1905. 

Let’s set the way back machine to maximum. What was the first Volunteer Fire Department? It is generally believed that the first American such was formed by no other than Ben Franklin in 1736 in Philadelphia, the Union Fire Company (yes, UFC) with 50 volunteer members. There had been organized firefighting efforts before that, of course. Fire goes back a long way. But the “Fire Clubs” before the Philadelphia VFD had been more ad hoc efforts of neighbors banding together to protect their own. The UFC was the first to take as its mission the protection of the entire community.

So when was the first Camp Meeker VFD formed? Surely there are some history buffs among our firefighters, or in the rest of the community. I’d even love to hear about the history of Camp Meeker’s Fire Engines. Heck, I’m always up for a history column.