Bancroft firefighter’s memory lives in tank donation
The Bancroft/Pine Grove volunteer fire department will be able to better respond to and fight structural fires in the rural areas with a donation from the family of a lost firefighter, Lyle Schmackel, 59, who worked with the Bancroft department for more than 18 years, died unexpectedly in March 2016. Memorial donations were made to the Fire Department, and a Car Cruise community event’s proceeds were donated to the Fire Department in part for the purchase of a collapsible tank.
Firefighters invited Schmackel’s family to a dedication of the tank and a ceremony honoring Schmackel Monday, Jan. 9.
“Lyle had no brothers, these were his brothers, and they were just a big part of our life,” said Elaine Schmackel, Lyle’s widow. “When he passed away, I knew I had to do something to make sure the fire department knew how much they meant to him.”
The collapsible tank will go out on the first truck responding to fires, be set up and then the truck can empty its water load into the tank, and go back for more. The 3,000-gallon tank will allow firefighters to continue getting a fire under control while mutual aid responds and the truck replenishes at a filling sight, usually an irrigation well in the area.
In the little more than two years since the department purchased the truck it currently uses, 71 calls have come into the station, and of those, 19 – or 26 percent – were structure fires that could have benefited from this tank, firefighters said.
“We don’t have hydrants, all of the water comes out of irrigation wells,” Chief Mike Phillips said. “Time is of the essence. The sooner we can get water out the more we’ll save in property damage.
“The community counts on us to do a job,” he said. “I’d rather have Lyle … But with the donation of this tank thanks to the generosity of the Schmackel family, it’s going to make our job a lot easier.”
The Bancroft Fire Department established in 1989 in order to serve the community, Phillips said. Each application that has come in since has emphasized the desire to serve the community, which is part of what makes the department as good as it is. Lyle was no exception.
“Just knowing him, and the good times we had doing this job,” he said. “You don’t want to let the guy down next to you. You become a family. He was a great guy. He participated in the Fire Department, the fundraisers, whatever we needed to do. We needed to build a fire truck, and he took part in that. It sat out at his house, with him poking away.
“Lyle was the best,” he said, choking back tears. “He will be missed.”
For Elaine, the couple’s two children and grandchildren who attended the dedication, there is some comfort in being able to give back, not only to an organization Lyle held so close but also to continue his legacy of serving the community.
“A community is only as good as the people in it,” Elaine Schmackel said, “so it’s important people take an active part in making it better.
“He may not be here to be active in the Fire Department, but he’ll always have an attachment,” she said. “He will always be present.”
Schmackel is the first firefighter the volunteer department has lost, Phillips said. To honor the family’s donation, a plaque that includes Lyle’s name was created and attached to the collapsible tank, and to honor his dedication and service to the department and community, a second plaque was created and will hang in the department.