When researching Fairfield history, there are few better sources than 92-year-old Bud Schrock.

When it came time to dig into the history of Fairfield Ambulance and the Fairfield Volunteer Fire Departments, we asked Bud to give us a view of the early days.

Cover Photo: Bud Schrock on Fairfield's first fire engine

Cover Photo: In this photo, taken in 1973, Fairfield Volunteer Firefighter Earl “Bud” Schrock sits at the wheel of Fairfield’s first fire engine, a 1938 “FWD.”

Sun Times Digital Archives photo

We also searched the old issues of the Fairfield Sun Times and this paper’s predecessor, The Fairfield Times. From what we found, the first use of an “ambulance” in Fairfield was during the 1918 flu epidemic.

No old copies of The Times remain from 1918, but in the March 10, 1938 edition of The Times, publisher Fred Schoensigel gave this account:

THE WORST PESTILENCE OF MODERN TIMES

Under the above head, Scribner’s Magazine recently published an account of the flu epidemic of 1918 which took half a million American lives – 10 times as many as we lost in battle in the World war which the pestilence so closely followed. In fact, at the time, it was declared to be a trench disease. The account in Scribner’s recalled to the writer the epidemic in Fairfield.

It struck rather suddenly here but there was no hysteria and most people went about their business as usual. But the shadow of peril hung over the town and community. When cases multiplied, the local school was closed and the building (the present school building was already up) was turned into a hospital under the direction of Dr. Bateman with at least one professional nurse (it now seems that there were two or three) in charge. In addition, there were volunteer nurses. One of these was Mrs. Barkemeyer, the teacher of the school who volunteered her services and did excellent work. Some of the precautions we were asked to take was to wear a small sack filled with odoriferous disinfectant about our neck and a mask over our nose and mouth. Mrs. Barkemeyer declined to do either and soon she was herself down with the disease.

During one stage of the disease the patient became deathly sick and it is recalled that one local man of the time, while at the hospital, asked to die. It might be mentioned that he was taken to the hospital by his next-door neighbor, a clothing merchant, and four hours later he was himself in the hospital, seriously ill. However, both recovered, and both died in California within the past few years. Mrs. Barkmeyer also recovered.

For purposes of an ambulance we had a fresh air taxi. John Zimmerman was then the dray man and he had a Model T chassis on which he had placed a long bed. With this he scurried over the countryside, bringing in the patients.

One patient brought in was a relatively young ranch woman. Arrived at the hospital she expressed an urgent wish to see her husband. Word was sent to him, but it took some time to send the messenger and for the rancher to come in. When he did reach the hospital, his wife seemed to be trying hard to tell him something but was unable to do so. She died shortly after, taking her secret with her.

One of those who died at the improvised hospital was Mrs. Henry Dale.

As we recall the death rate at the hospital was for a short time as high as one a day.

The conveyance used to remove the bodies was almost as crude as the conveyance for bringing the patients in. It was a Model T Ford with the top removed. The undertaker, a Choteau man, put the body in a long mortuary basket with a lid and this was set crosswise on the car between the front and rear seat.

By way of helping to combat the disease, the state sent special physicians to the rural areas, and Dr. George Landstrom of Helena, a noted physician of the time, and a dabbler in politics came to Fairfield and called on several local patients, among them Joe Crittenden.

But the disease subsided almost as suddenly as it came. The hospital broke house, the building was disinfected, and school was resumed.

The local fire department or, as Fred Schoensigel used to refer to them, “the fire boys,” predate the establishment of the incorporated Town of Fairfield by three years.

In the June 23, 1938 issue of The Fairfield Times, it was reported:

FIRE PUMP ON WAY

Word was received this week from W.S. Darley & Co. of Chicago, by air mail, according to W.G. Henneford, secretary-treasurer of the Fire Department, that they could expect the fire pump some time within the next few days.

The cause of the long delay was that a new front end power mounting had to be especially built to fit the fire truck purchased by the local fire fighters

These boys are trying to get started and should have all the help possible from the community for this worthy cause.

 

A couple of years later, on May 30, 1940, The Fairfield Times reported that the Fairfield Volunteer Fire Department, along with Dr. Crary, came to the aid of a young child in distress:

INHALATOR PUT TO USE

The inhalator recently purchased by the Fairfield Volunteer Fire Department has had its first practical use and it proved its value.

Last Sunday Mr. and Mrs. Rowley of Bynum were en route to Great Falls to secure medical treatment for their little daughter. On reaching Fairfield the child was found to be critically ill. They brought the child to Dr. Crary who diagnosed the ailment as pneumonia, and knowing that there was an inhalator at the fire house, he sent for it and applied it with good results.

The child promptly revived and was taken to a Great Falls hospital where it was placed in an oxygen tent. The little girl has now fully recovered. Dr. Crary believes that the inhalator was a real factor in saving the child’s life, although the use of an oxygen tent was necessary as a follow up. He expressed surprise that Fairfield has such an appliance.

 

Bud Schrock recalls that in the early days of his service on the ambulance and fire crews that the town police (yes, Fairfield did have a “town cop”) handled ambulance duty.

At first, a Chevy van was used, but later the town acquired a Ford station wagon that was used as the Fairfield “police car” and ambulance.

According to Bud, the station wagon was lower to the ground, which made it easier to load patients. There was a jump seat where a member of the ambulance crew could sit, although Bud said it was a “tight squeeze.”

In 1972 the Fairfield mayor asked the Fairfield Volunteer Fire Department to take on the duty of the ambulance, and in 1973 the first EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) class was held, with “six or eight” attending, according to Bud. “They all passed,” said Bud.

Asked if it was hard to find volunteers for the ambulance crew back then, Bud said “no,” but he went on: “There were not many around that would do that [serve on an ambulance crew]. Some of us did a lot of weekends that could have been covered by others, but we didn’t have any people.”

In 1973 a photo appeared in The Fairfield Times of Bud Schrock at the wheel of the original Fairfield Fire Truck. The photo was part of a plea by the then mayor of Fairfield for the town to acquire a new fire truck, which they did – by 1975.

On the radiator of the old truck can be seen the letters “USA.” Asked if it was an old Army surplus truck, Bud said the fire truck was an “FWD.”

FWD was the Four Wheel Drive Automobile Company, founded in 1909 in Clintonville, Wisconsin. The company is still in business as FWD-Seagrave.

Bud joined the Fairfield Volunteer Fire Department in 1956. Asked to compare his time on the fire crew to his time with the ambulance, Bud said both were challenging, but that he was in contact with more people as a result of his time on the ambulance.

The Aragon Fire of 32 years ago is still considered by most long-time Fairfield residents to be the “big one.” Many old-timers say that if not for the efforts of the Fairfield Volunteer Fire Department and others who came to assist, the entire Fairfield business district would have gone up in flames.

That night, Bud was on ambulance duty. He still remembers the Aragon fire, and said it was a tricky one due to a double-floor in the building. Bud also recalls the Eisenmann Seed Company elevator fire of the seventies as a “mighty big one,” with Malstrom Air Force Base and Choteau Volunteer Fire Department responding. Another big fire in the town’s history, according to Bud, was when the original Fairfield Community Hall went up in flames.