Mason Fire Chief Kerry Minshall has lived in Mason his entire life. He knows what the town has been through and what it needs from a fire department. A family atmosphere is what he has created at the City of Mason Fire Department, Mason’s local volunteer fire department located in the heart of downtown on West Ash Street.
The department is made up of nearly 30 volunteer paid-on-call firefighters. These volunteers have full-time jobs and commitments but give back to a community they love. “If you take the oath to put the pager on your hip, you have a community to protect,” said Powless, 29, who has been volunteering at Mason for five years.
Powless, who has lived in Mason her entire life, was impacted by some fires that took place in Mason when she was younger. Amazed at the response time and demeanor of the firefighters, she always wanted to be a firefighter, despite it being a male-dominated field. “In my way, it’s giving back to the community that helped build me, so if I can help shape and build younger generations in that way, it’ll be good,” said Powless.
Minshall said, Powless “is a great person we have and she has a great female perspective on the job.”
Minshall makes it a point to create a family environment. He has bought mechanical firetruck toys for his grandkids and the children of Mason to play on anytime they please? He said the atmosphere is part of the reason volunteers dedicate themselves to Mason. “They become part of your friends and extended family,” said Minshall.
Minshall grew up in Mason and joined the fire department at 18 in 1980. He lived across the street from the station in the days when a siren would call the firefighters to a fire. Minshall and his friends would watch the crew get ready and leave the station. In those days, the address of the fire was written on a chalkboard inside the station, and once the firefighters had left Minshall and his friends would run in and check the location of the fire. If it was close, they would get on their bikes and go watch the Mason crew douse the flames. From then, Minshall was hooked and set on giving back to his community in that same way.
Minshall became chief in 2007 and has been serving the community side-by-side with his now 12-year-old dalmatian, Ember. Ember will join Minshall on calls with her head poked out the window. She is a crowd-favorite in Mason.
Firefighter Pat Hicks is a maintenance worker for the City of Mason and a former construction worker. He said he appreciates his firehouse family. “We all do a lot of stuff together, whether it’s helping friends or family friends get ready for winter and get generators set up or do fun stuff too, and it’s great,” said Hicks.
Powless feels right at home in the department and appreciates the environment. “Everybody works together, and that’s what makes it so special being a volunteer department… you don’t always get that with the career departments,” said Powless.
There are tougher aspects to running a volunteer firehouse that don’t come with full-career departments. Minshall said, “The biggest challenge in the last couple of years for the volunteer service is recruitment. You know, getting someone to commit their Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays for five or six months… It gets a little bit harder to get that commitment from somebody.’’
Powless understands. “The hard thing is, you can go fight fire anywhere. With a volunteer department, you’re basically asking someone to fight fire for free. That’s the challenge of it, and I think volunteers are few and far between these days,” said Powless.
It requires 240 hours of schooling for someone, volunteer or not, to become a state-certified firefighter in Michigan. To Minshall, it’s worth it. “It’s really been a satisfying career for me and I didn’t plan on it being my career. It’s been really rewarding personally for me and for my family to give back to the community,” said Minshall.