Fire Board Holds Last Meeting

At midnight on June 30, Crest Forest Fire Protection District will fade into history. After 85 years of service to the Crestline community, Crest Forest Fire will be dissolved and at 12:01 a.m. County Fire will annex the district and take over responsibility for protecting the district’s residents and their properties.

A decline in funding, along with rising costs for labor and materials, were at the heart of the district’s demise following voter failure two years ago to approve the board’s request for a new paramedic services tax that would have brought in an additional $1 million annually.

The mood among board members at Crest Forest Fire’s final board meting Tuesday night, held at Station 25 in Top Town, was not somber, but wistful with directors all expressing their sadness that the end had come to a venerable institution.

“It’s sad that we have come to the end of the road,” director Punch Ringhofer said, noting that he has served as a board member for 20 years. “I am thankful for the time that I have been part of this department.”

Director Chuck Gibbs, who has served a total of 26 years off and on as a director, shared Ringhofer’s feelings.

“It’s sad we are losing the Crest Forest Fire Protection District, probably one of the oldest fire protection districts in the state,” he said. “But the community will be protected by the county, and that offers the community stability.”

Director Robert Goss, who now goes down in local history as the last serving board president for Crest Forest Fire, said County Fire will do a good job for the community. “Our goal was to keep the community safe, and we’ve done that,” he said.

Director Jerry Ringhofer, who served as a Crest Forest firefighter and last served as one of two division chiefs before he retired, said it was a sad day but that the decision to have County Fire take over responsibilities was the right one.

And Director Leslie Dodge-Taylor thanked everyone for their hard work at transitioning fire protection services over to the county.

County Fire’s top administrators were on hand to share the board’s final moments and to express their appreciation for the hard work everyone had done. On hand for the meeting were County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig, Deputy Fire Chief Jim Johnstone and Mountain Division Chief Kathleen Opliger.

Before the start of the meeting, Opliger brought out a cake for everyone to enjoy. The words, written in blue icing on top the cake, simply said, “Honoring 85 Years of Dedicated Service.”

“We are honoring and embracing the many years of service to the community,” she told everyone at the meeting. “This department has served the community well.”

She also presented each board member with a plaque honoring their years of service, ranging from Gibbs with 26 years to Jerry Ringhofer who has served just over one year as a director.

Opliger also said County Fire plans to honor the district’s many years of service by creating a commemorative park area on the Station 25 site. It will include a building to house Crest Forest Fire’s classic 1929 Studebaker fire engine, Crest 1. The old fire engine is the center of attention in many of the mountain community parades.

“It will be maybe two years to get it going, because we will have to design plans and get approvals,” she said, adding that it will house a lot of memorabilia from the district’s 85 years of service.

“It is of paramount importance that we capture and maintain the rich history of the Crest Forest Fire District and honor their 85 years of service for generations to come,” she said.

Opliger also said that there will be a celebration on June 27 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Station 25 in Top Town to honor Crest Forest Fire’s history and to embrace the future of County Fire taking over fire protection responsibilities.

County Fire will host the barbecue picnic and it will include music, hot dogs, brats and sodas. The public is invited.