Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 24, 2018

Tanner a ‘father figure’ for firefighters

May 10, 2018
Tom Tanner in 2014. Before retiring, Tanner served on the Washington Fire Department for over 60 years, beginning in 1951. Tanner died Wednesday in the United Presbyterian Home in Washington. Services are pending.

By David Hotle, The JOURNAL


When Washington Fire Chief Tom Wide joined the Washington Fire Department in 1988, he remembers being greeted by veteran firefighter Tom Tanner.

Tanner, who at the time was already a veteran firefighter, was someone new people looked to for inspiration, Wide said. Even later when Tanner had surgery on his neck which limited his mobility, he was still able to help the department. Wide said Tanner would respond to the station when there were calls, fill air bottles and bring refreshments for the firefighters. He retired from the fire department in 2015 after over 60 years of service.

“When a person is first on, he was kind of a father figure image for the fire department,” Wide said. “We was a super nice guy.”

Tanner, age 92, of Washington, died Wednesday, May 9, 2018 in the United Presbyterian Home in Washington. Services are pending at the Jones & Eden Funeral Home.

In a 2014 interview, Tanner remembers when he first joined the Washington Fire Department the firefighters had no special clothing that they wore when working to extinguish buildings that had caught fire. He joined the fire department on April 4, 1951 at age 25, when he had just gotten out of the Army. Cheyenne (Cuddeback) Miller, author of the books “We Lucky Few” and “The Three of Hearts,” both of which chronicle accounts of local veterans, recalled Tanner froze his hands and feet badly searching for the bodies of servicemen during the Battle of the Bulge while serving in Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army, 87th Infantry.

In speaking about the Washington Fire Department of the 1950s, Tanner remembered having an old coat that he wore when he responded to a fire. In the case of smoke, he said the firefighters would wrap a handkerchief over their faces. He also said there was little training for firefighters. He went to firefighters’ school in Ames for a few days per year. Once in a while, the fire service would come around and have a seminar.

“I was probably one of the youngest ones,” Tanner said. “It was an old fire department. It just didn’t have any newer people. We had about 28, and only about five of us were in our 20s. Back then, most of the firemen were also businessmen around the square.”

He said that his parents had a service station across the street from the fire hall. He said that seeing the firefighters respond to the hall and seeing the trucks go out, he decided he wanted to try firefighting.

He married his wife, Charlene, in 1950 and joined the fire department in 1951.

Over the years he said that he had been to many fires.

“The worst one I had was in the north end of town,” he said. “A father and son were repairing a mower in the basement and the gas exploded. The father caught on fire. I drove up in the firetruck and he was coming and he ran into me.”

Today, he said, many things are different. He said that firefighters receive “a lot” of training. The fire department is constantly trying to buy new equipment that will enhance the safety of the firefighters and the people the fire department serves. He said in the past having an oxygen mask set up away from the fire was a luxury. Tanner said that he remembers when the department only had one truck courtesy of Farmers Mutual.

After serving about five years on the fire department, Tanner became assistant chief. He later served as first chief before being promoted to fire chief. He served as fire chief for four years. He said during his time he always worked his hardest and “there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do to save a life.”

During his time as chief, he said that the department had worked to get a new truck. This raised the city’s fleet of firefighting vehicles to three, which is the number of bays that was in the former fire hall, Tanner said.

After changing jobs, Tanner found he had to resign his position as chief.

In 2014 Tanner had said for the size of Washington, the department is one of the best there is. He said the department now has good equipment, good personnel and good training.

Wide said that Tanner had also served several terms on the Washington City Council.


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