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Message hidden in fire hall for 35 years

On Jan. 20, 1981 American citizens celebrated the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan and the release of 52 U.S. hostages that had been held at the U.S. Embassy in Teheran, Iran for 444 days. Meanwhile, here in Park Rapids, a group of volunteer firefighters sealed a time capsule on the wall of the then new fire hall which was discovered earlier this month during current renovations.

In 1981 the fire hall was brand new and as the wall says during a “work night at the new hall,” they signed their names with the headline of the day, the gas price of $1.30 per gallon and covered it up thinking it would never be seen again.

“The wall,” as the current firefighters have come to call it was hidden behind a set of old school lockers in the men’s bathroom at the hall for the last 35 years.

According to the Assistant Fire Chief Terry Long, the lockers needed to be moved in order to remodel the bathroom during reconstruction.

The current roster of firefighters was unaware that it was even there.

All of the firemen listed on the wall have retired, nearly half of them have passed away and of those remaining that could be reached for comment, they could not recall ever having written their names at all; even though they recognized their own handwriting.

There seems to be a lot of speculation among the retired firefighters as to who was responsible for the wall but so far, none of them can say with any real certainty who the mastermind was.

One thing that is certain is that the wall sparks a deep fondness for their time served and stirs up a lot of memories.

Gary Vik served on the department from 1968 to 1989; he describes firefighting as a brotherhood. “We went through hell together, literally,” he said.

He went on to explain that when you put your life on the line it becomes vital to trust the guys you serve with.

“It was kind of a find,” Long said about their excitement in discovering the wall. “It’s neat that they had the foresight to put their names there.”

In recent years a plaque was put up in the fire hall with the names of all the firefighters who served on the department for 10 years or more and according to Long there is probably twice as many names not listed that did not serve a full 10 years but were just as valuable to the department.

Long said some of the retired guys still sit in on the meetings and training.

“You have that extension from one generation to the next,” he said.

The department’s roster is full at 26 and according to Long they are almost always full.

“It’s starting to get more and more difficult to fill the roster” Long said. “I think some of it is generational the idea of volunteering for something doesn’t carry the same weight as it used to.”

Long believed the guys on the department then had done a lot of work on the hall to build it as a clubhouse and it’s kind of continued as such. “It’s kind of neat hanging onto it,” he said.

There have been discussions on how to preserve the wall and luckily it was not scheduled to be demolished. It will remain intact and although nothing has been officially decided the consensus seems to be to protect the wall somehow and possibly list the current roster under the old one as well.

Even though most of the firemen listed on the wall have since retired or passed away the wall is proof that “once you are a fireman you’re always a fireman” and they may no longer be physically present but they have always been there.