by Kim Cameron
Many give of their time and talents in a small community, but very few give with the faithfulness that Bill Dixon has done for over half of a century.
After 50 years of firefighter duty, Bill Dixon should bask in the glory of this milestone; however, he is prouder of his son Woody’s Ranch Hand of the Year award which was presented by the Farm Bureau in Wyoming, than he is of his own achievements.
Bill’s steadfast nature and commitment to others is evident in his life story. He has been married to his wife Carolyn (Ellison) for over 33 years, and he retired from his job at Freeport McMoRan after 31 years of service.
Bill’s family came to Grand County in the late 50s and his father worked at the Williams Fork Dam. In 1962, his father purchased Uncle Tom’s Cabin which was a café, bar, gas station, liquor store and grocery store at the current location of the Parshall Inn. During their decade of ownership, Bill often took his turn slinging hash.
In 1964, the feed store in Parshall burned down and there were no fire hydrants in Parshall. A year later, Bill joined the volunteer fire brigade when he was 16 years old.
At the time, volunteer fireman could join the Parshall/Hot Sulphur Springs fire crew when they could drive.
“The first meeting I attended, the talk was about who had the fastest horse,” Bill recalls. “It was more of a social club.” However, Bill joined with the intent to help others.
“I knew I had too much to lose if I didn’t help fight fires,” he explains.
The volunteers met every other month and were summoned by the civil defense siren in Hot Sulphur Springs when needed. This siren would be followed up with a phone call.
“In those days everyone had a party line so everyone got the phone call at the same time,” said Bill of the early communication.
Now Bill and other firefighters are notified through their cell phone which acts as a pager. The nature of the emergency and the location is broadcasted on the cell phone through dispatch and each individual can respond with their availability and their expected arrival time.
The better communication and better training has advanced since Bill first became a volunteer fireman. The Hot Sulphur Springs fire department now trains twice each month.
“When I joined, our training consisted of the truck and hose and our gear was a raincoat. Whatever you were wearing is how you went,” said Bill. He once responded to a car fire wearing moccasins.
He noted there is more interdepartmental communication in the county between the fire departments and emergency responders.
“The interdepartmental training has helped everyone know how they are going to fight the fire, help with auto wrecks, or help with medical problems,” said Bill. “We also cover for other towns if needed.”
The firefighters now assist the county coroner, emergency medical situations, automobile wrecks, Hazmat situations, and attend to fires. There is also more modern equipment; even though Bill recalls old fire trucks fondly.
“We are especially proud of our ‘46 Chevrolet fire truck that ended up in New York after 9/11,” he said. “There is even a picture of it in front of what was left of the Twin Towers.” The old truck was purchased by a company in Utah. It was then restored and donated to New York City Department after the September 11th attack.
Throughout his years of service, Bill has attended many fires and said it always felt good to save someone’s houses and minimize losses.
The volunteer fire department is also called to wildfires. Once the fire department was called to the Byers Shooting Range for a fire caused by tracer bullets and found themselves getting shot at unintentionally when those shooting at targets failed to stop shooting as the wildfire progressed!
Other fires Bill remembers were: Dorothy’s store in Parshall, the Welcome Inn Cabins, the fire up the Williams Fork, a next door neighbor and the Church’s Park fire.
When Bill was 19, he did a tour of Vietnam in the Navy. He was a Storekeeper 3rd Class and served on the assistant fire brigade. A fire on a ship can be devastating, and while Bill was on duty watch, a fuel line caught fire in the engine. Bill had the responsibility of damage control as his officer in charge abandoned the ship. A crew of 3,000 had been on board, and sadly, a friend of Bill’s was trampled in the fire and two others perished.
“I will miss the camaraderie of being with other firefighters. They are like family,” said Bill.
Fellow firefighter George Davis would agree. “I have had the pleasure of serving with Bill for over 33 years… I always thought of Bill as our man on the Western Front,” said Davis, a Hot Sulphur Springs resident. “One of my favorite stories that comes to mind about Bill is when we had a fire call on a Saturday night around 11:30 p.m. A page came through that there was a fire at the Parshall Motel. I responded to the call and went to the Hot Sulphur Springs Fire Station… No one was there. I left the station on my own in Fire Truck #289. As I came through Byers Canyon, I was expecting to see the night sky glowing above Parshall, but to my relief there wasn’t a glow…. As I approached the scene, …I saw the lights of Fire Truck #285 at the motel. Bill had single handedly put out the fire in the motel storage room. As I got out of #289, Bill’s response was, ‘What took you so long?’” Bill does not plan to completely leave the fire brigade yet. He will respond to fires as needed, but will forgo the meetings and training. “Bill’s 50 years of service shows his love for his friends, neighbors, and his community,” Davis added.
Bill and his wife Carolyn have also committed to building a new fire station in Parshall. “The old fire station is over 75 years old and was threatened with being torn down,” said Carolyn. “That would cause everyone to lose their home owner’s insurance because the nearest fire station would be too far away.”
The Dixons purchased a 60 x 50 foot metal building that will house three fire trucks. The old fire station will be demolished in the near future and the new building will be installed. It should be completed by this fall.
Contributions to the new fire building can be made at the Bank of the West in the Parshall Fire House Building Fund.