Fennville Firefighter Bruce Grams Retiring After 50 Years Of Battling Blazes In Hometown
Bruce Grams sat in the firehouse in Fennville and remembered his long career as a firefighter.
“I started in October 1965; my first fire was the old Canning Factory,” said Grams.
“ I wasn’t yet an official fireman, but I went along on the call. There were seven fire departments that answered the call and helped put out the fire.
“The Canning Factory burned to the ground. The city had a brand new fire truck with a 44-foot extension ladder. I had the truck with me. When the call came in I asked Chief Bob McCracken if it was a real fire as the Canning Factory had a lot of false alarms.
“Bob said, ‘I think it’s a real fire, there’s smoke coming out of the window.’ The call came in at 3:30 p.m. and I was fighting the fire until 5 a.m the next morning. The following Thursday at the meeting I got voted in as an official fireman.”
The Fennville Fire Department is all volunteers; when a call comes in everyone available comes to the station now.
“When I first started,” says Grams, “we could go directly to the fire, but regulations have changed.”
Grams remembers, “In the 1960s the department had two pumper tankers and sometime during that period three of us went to Seneca Falls, New York to pick up a jeep for brush fires.
“We got it through the DNR (Department of Natural Resources). Now we have a main engine, a tanker, a rescue truck, a BobCat for brush fires plus two trucks and a jet ski for water rescues.”
The Greater Fennville Fire Department covers an area all the way to Lakeshore Drive to 48th Street to the east, to the river on the north and part of Clyde Township to the south. “We cover part of Manlius Township south of the river and in the city of Fennville,” said the fire veteran. “We have a good working relationship with all the fire departments in the area.
“Hamilton, Saugatuck and Ganges as well as Fennville are automatically dispatched to come to all fires 24/7.”
Drawing on his memory, Grams said, “I remember a big fire in the woods that reached from 120th Street to M-89 back in the early 80s. That was a big experience for me. Some other major fires that I was involved in were the Old Feed Mill, the Ink Factory and the Old Cider Mill.
“Another woods fire that I remember,” he notes, “was the one that reached M-89 to Old Allegan Road on the Rod and Gun property. This was in the mid-1960s.
“There have been quite a few trailer fires and the house that I grew up in at 603 East Main Street burned down not too many years ago.”
Asked about any fire that really stood out in his memory, Grams recalled, “I remember one harrowing time. Jerald Stenberg and I crawled through a burning house looking for a child. We had no equipment or airpacs. We couldn’t find the child and, spitting black ash, we crawled out of the house. That’s when we saw the boy sitting across the street watching the fire.”
Noting the level of equipment when he started fighting fires, Grams said, “We had black rubber coats, hip boots and leather helmets, but we weren’t required to wear them. In the hot summer we didn’t wear them.”
Grams grew up in Fennville.
He had several different jobs: he worked at the Fennville Public Schools for approximately five years at the old high school. He worked at the Canning Factory for one year. He retired from the West Michigan Flocking Company after 20 years.
His hobbies are fishing, hunting geese and deer and spending time with his grandchildren. His wife, Judith, works for Dr. Icabone. They have been married 57 years. They have one son, Brett, and one daughter, Wendy, and five grandchildren.
“One of my grandsons, Scott, received the Medal of Honor Award from the city of East Lansing as a Public Safety Officer. My oldest granddaughter Kara is a Certified Nurse’s Assistant in Grand Rapids. “Another granddaughter, Hayley, is going to Grand Valley State University. My youngest grandson works in Holland and my middle grandson was severely ill recently, but is recovering now.”
A Retirement Open House party is being organized for Grams. The time and place will be announced when everything comes together.
Bruce Grams has earned a well-deserved rest after fighting fires for 50 years!