VILLA GROVE — More than 100 people contributed to the Villa Grove Fire Department during the annual fundraiser at the station on June 25. As traffic raced along Highway 285, residents and volunteer firefighters discussed the recent increase in traffic accidents and fatalities.
“We’re being called out to more calls now,” noted Wes Moores, District Chief of the Northern Saguache County Fire Protection District.
According to Moores and Villa Grove-Bonanza Fire Station Chief George Frees, the fundraiser covers expenses for specialized equipment and day-to-day station requirements.
A thermal-imaging camera, for example, cost $8,000 this year, and a “cutter” more commonly called “the Jaws of Life” required another $40,000 from the station budget. Frees said both pieces of equipment are life-savers. Imagine a car on fire with multiple occupants inside. The heat-imaging device locates hotspots, providing guidance for making the cuts.
Moores manages five stations within the district’s 1,600 square miles. Responsibility stretches from the top of Poncha and Cochetopa Passes south to Saguache County Road L and east to include Moffat and Crestone. However, crews also help with incidents beyond the district boundary. Interagency cooperation is key for effective, rapid response.
Station Chief Frees and volunteers selected winning tickets for the fundraiser raffle at the end of the event. Participants went home with smoke detectors and other safety devices and prizes.
Long-time department volunteer and Villa Grove entrepreneur-resident Jeff Shook discovered a flyer from the 2002 fundraiser before this year’s event. Shook and his wife Amber formerly owned and operated Villa Grove Trade, dating back four decades. For history, Shook deferred to the man who donated the first fire truck, Gary Vollertsen.
Vollertsen lived in Florida at the time, so someone had to come to pick it up. He had connections with Villa Grove and later made it home in 1984 and volunteered for the department himself. According to Vollertsen, John and Elaine Woodard traveled cross-country and slowly drove the truck back to Colorado.
The station chief’s brother, David Frees, received the “Mike Gelski Award for Outstanding Volunteer Achievement” from the Colorado Emergency Management Association for his 600 hours of volunteer service in 2021. David Frees currently serves as the Captain and Lead Training Officer for the department after 13 years of service. Since 2015, David Frees has served as Team Leader and Technical Rope Rescue Technician with the Saguache County Search and Rescue Team. In 2016, he also started serving as an Emergency Medical Technician with the Northern Saguache County Volunteer Ambulance District.
The station chief’s wife, Shannon Frees, leads the Villa Grove Fire Department Auxiliary group. They provide support during operations and run events like the annual fundraiser. When the Moffat fire in October 2021 drew volunteers from surrounding towns and districts, the Auxiliary provided meals for everyone.
Raffle participants on Saturday went home with donated items, and the bake sale yielded more proceeds. The loaves of Swiss Braid Zopf that Shannon Frees baked disappeared long before the fundraiser ended.