2016-12-29 / Front Page

Kasper Has Seen Dept. Grow Over 62 Years of Service

By Erich T. Doerr

Clark Township Volunteer Fire Department Chief Chet Kasper, Jr. retired from the role at the start of December after 43 years in command. He has been with the department since 1954 and will continue to serve as a firefighter. (Kasper family photograph) Clark Township Volunteer Fire Department Chief Chet Kasper, Jr. retired from the role at the start of December after 43 years in command. He has been with the department since 1954 and will continue to serve as a firefighter. (Kasper family photograph) A changing of the guard is imminent for the Clark Township Volunteer Fire Department as longtime chief Chet Kasper, Jr., retired from the position at the start of December. Mr. Kasper, 81, is only stepping away from the department’s leadership role and will continue to serve as a firefighter. He has also spent the last 30 years working with the Clark Township Volunteer Ambulance Corps and will continue to serve with them.

Mr. Kasper is stepping away from the fire chief role because he believes it is time for someone new to take command. Firefighting is becoming increasingly technology-driven, with all kinds of high-tech equipment and computers on the firetrucks being added, and since he said he is not the best with computers, he believes it is time to pass the torch to someone who is. A new chief has not been selected yet, so Mr. Kasper has continued to handle the position’s primary duties, including paperwork, until a successor is selected.

Mr. Kasper’s day job alongside his firefighting work was working on furnace, sheet metal, and heating duct projects. He still does occasional heating duct work.

He was a firefighter on the department for 62 years and has served as chief for almost 43. He was one of many who joined the volunteer fire service in 1954 as the new department got off the ground. Prior to that, fire trucks were called from Sault Ste. Marie.

The fire department typically has about 25 firefighters. Mr. Kasper praised how well the team works together on the job, noting he enjoys his friendships there.

“They are a good bunch to be involved with,” he said. “We’re all good at what we do. We are a real team and know exactly what to do when called on.”

Mr. Kasper spent his first 19 years with the fire department working his way up the ranks. His first task was learning about how everything in the department worked and where all the equipment was. When the former fire chief, Lyle Hudson, retired in 1974, he was one of three firefighters asked if they were interested in the position. The other two turned down the role because of their outside commitments.

“Now I’m going to start all over again,” joked Mr. Kasper about stepping down from the leadership role and returning to the ranks.

The equipment used by the Clark Township fire department in 1954 was nothing like what it has today. Back then, the department’s only vehicle was a surplus dump truck that had been sent to Wisconsin for conversion into a fire engine. It functioned as a combination pumper and a tanker, capable of holding 500 gallons and pumping all of them out in one minute. The community’s ambulance came from Pickford and doubled as a hearse.

The first truck Mr. Kasper worked with in the 1950s required 10 to 15 minutes to fill with water. Today the department has a vacuum fire engine capable of carrying 3,500 gallons of water and being filled in just four minutes. One person can operate the entire truck. Its regular truck can carry 1,000 gallons and pump 1,500 gallons a minute. The department also now has a buried 7,000-gallon tank of water near the township hall to support its operation, while still drawing water from local water sources when necessary.

As chief, Mr. Kasper worked hard with the township and its board of trustees to make sure the department had all the latest firefighting equipment it needed when developments came along that would help the community. A new rescue truck, purchased earlier after the department’s needs outgrew the old one, will become the 12th truck the department has acquired during Mr. Kasper’s tenure.

The township now trains for and is equipped for ice rescues, with four sets of wetsuits. On land, hydraulic rescue tools help free accident victims from crushed vehicles.

The Clark Township Fire Department has a four-wheel-drive, all-terrain vehicle that can carry up to five people and be equipped with tracks for winter use. It’s an ideal tool for fighting brush fires or getting up icy hills and it has the ability to carry a stretcher to move the injured. The department also has a snowmobile to help those in distress on local trails.

The nature of life in Clark Township means that the fire department must be ready at all times for the possibility of responding to an emergency offshore on any of the Les Cheneaux Islands. When Mr. Kasper first joined the department, it didn’t have a boat. If there was a fire on one of the islands, firefighters had to commandeer any vessel they could locate, often having to enlist the use of one from curious boat owners who would come over to watch the fire.

Today, the department has its own fireboat equipped with pumps for fighting fires anywhere in the Les Cheneaux Islands. The boat can also transport patients from any of the islands to a waiting ambulance on the mainland.

Mr. Kasper got involved with the Clark Township Ambulance Corps in the mid-1980s when Captain Charlie Paquin talked him into joining. Since then, he has frequently been called in as the driver for the ambulance. At first, ambulance crews would be on call for several days or nights in a row. Today, a paid crew handles things during the day, when it is hard to get volunteers, while the volunteers work the night shift. Mr. Kasper continually strives to keep up his medical first responder credentials.

Firefighting has been a family operation for the Kaspers. Mr. Kasper is joined in the department by three of his sons; Chet III, Stanley, and Michael. Two of his grandsons also briefly joined the department, but later moved out of the area when they found new employment.

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