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Making a difference

Jewell Fire Chief Duane Hendrickson is proud to serve his community

JEWELL — There’s no place Duane Hendrickson would rather be of service than in his own hometown. Small towns always need volunteers to make anything happen, and that’s especially true when it comes to firefighter and Emergency Medical Services EMS.

“If you want to help out your neighbor, this is the way to do it because you’re going to be helping him in his worst day,” Hendrickson said.

A long-time member of the Jewell Fire and Rescue Department, Hendrickson is now in his 22nd year as chief. He hadn’t really planned on becoming a firefighter or EMT, but when friends just about “drafted” him to join, he readily agreed.

“I was in town, they said, ‘You’re here all the time, and you can help,'” Hendrickson recalled.

It’s hard to say no when your friends need a little help, and that’s who small town fire and rescue departments serve — friends and neighbors. Hendrickson decided from the beginning that in addition to fighting fires, he would also enroll in the training required to become an EMT.

“I started with the department saying I was going to take the EMT class,” Hendrickson said. “At that time, it took 120 hours of class, 24 hours of ER time, and 24 hours of ride time — and the time didn’t count until you had an emergency.”

It wasn’t the first time that Hendrickson tried his hand at public service. A 1971 graduate of South Hamilton High School, he enrolled in ROTC while a student at Iowa State University.

“It seemed like a good thing to do,” Hendrickson said of his ROTC days. “I had always had an interest in the military. We drilled monthly and got out in the field a few times a year.”

ROTC members were required to wear their uniforms on campus at least one day per week. The early 1970s were a tough time to be in uniform, as many veterans can attest. But, thankfully, Hendrickson found a more friendly response from his fellow Iowa Staters.

“Iowa State was more conservative and we never got any lip,” Hendrickson said.

He took part in the two-year ROTC program and was thereby not required to accept a military commission that the four-year scholarship participants received. After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Science, he worked in ag business for several years before returning to the family farm.

His father, Lars Hendrickson, served as a medic toward the end of World War II. Always deployed stateside, he had a job helping send soldiers back home where they belonged.

“My dad served in the medical corps and he processed discharges,” Hendrickson said.

The Hendrickson farm was pretty basic when the chief was growing up. They didn’t have modern facilities in the house for most of his childhood, but it didn’t seem to bother anyone.

The old outhouse is gone now, but flowers bloom where it once stood. A summer kitchen, often known as a “wash house,” kept the main house cooler in the summertime. Peonies are plentiful here, and one can almost hear the joy of growing up still ringing from the grassy lawn on this simple farm in Hamilton Township.

Originally purchased by his great uncle, Ray Hendrickson, in 1910, Hendrickson and his wife Regina, were proud to earn the Century Farm designation a few years ago in honor of all the family members who have worked this land for so many years.

Farmers, because they work for themselves, are often called up to serve as volunteer firefighters. But with fewer farmers everyone needs to help out.

Today, Hendrickson knows many of the people the department serves from day to day. He is always encouraging more people to consider joining the department. As the population ages, fewer hands are available to help, but the need is always there.

“It goes in streaks,” Hendrickson said of volunteer recruitment. “Right now, we’re interviewing some people for the department, some as young as 20 years old.”

Both men and women are an active part of the department.

“There were three women on the department when I started,” Hendrickson recalled.

These days, he doesn’t really count male or female; he simply needs people with diverse talents and skill sets. Some provide good strong muscle, while others provide technical expertise, compassion and a gift for working with people in very stressful situations.

“It’s reflective of society,” he said. “We all have different skills and strengths. Somebody might not have the skill to pull someone else out of a burning building, but they can do a lot of other things.”

The department has 27 active members. Hendrickson is grateful for support from the community.

“I have a saying that the fire department has what the community will support,” Hendrickson said. “In other words, you look at what we have — it’s well-supported — and that translates into the community doing a great job of supporting us. We want to maintain that respect and worthiness.”

Hendrickson continues to serve as a basic level EMT, along with his duties as chief. On any given day — or night — volunteers may be called out to help an elderly woman who has fallen in her garden, to a multi-vehicle accident on two-lane and four-lane highways, or even to help fight an enormous elevator fire with scores of other departments.

It’s never boring.

And, to Hendrickson, whether it’s a simple call or one that can threaten even the lives of first responders, it’s worthwhile to know that one is making a difference for the better.

“It takes time,” Hendrickson said, “but it’s something that you can be proud of.”

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