Pat Barnhart

Pat Barnhart

The days when members of the Brookfield Township Volunteer Firemen’s Auxiliary would get up in the middle of the night, head to a local store for supplies, and then to a fire scene to support firefighters battling a blaze are over.

But, the auxiliary supports the department in other ways, and has become a resource for the entire community.

The auxiliary – only women can be members, but men have played a key role in developing the organization and helping out at events – sponsors regular American Red Cross blood drives, laying out a food and beverage spread that can’t be beat. It holds funeral dinners, helps out at the Brookfield Township Outreach Association’s annual community Thanksgiving dinner, and makes sure the Brookfield fire trucks are stocked with water and Gatorade. It holds a Memorial Day dinner and participates in Safety Night, the annual community event put on by the fire and police departments.

When the fire department hosted a two-week training session last summer, the auxiliary members fed the cadets.

“We fill in the gaps that no one else does,” said 94-year-old Hazel Howell.  “It’s very rewarding.”

The auxiliary was created in 1949, and Raella Baker’s parents – former Assistant Fire Chief Hays Montgomery and Barbara Montgomery — were among the founders. Others in her family have joined over the years, and Baker noted her 50-year membership.

“I’m finishing up my 36th year” as president, she said. “They just elected me for the 37th.”

“I love it,” Baker, 70, said. “I love the ladies. I love doing community stuff. I love the firemen.”

Janet Wedge, the daughter of Dot and Gordon Wedge, is another second-generation member. She said she enjoys the camaraderie among members.

“I feel like I’m doing something for the township,” said Wedge, 69, the auxiliary’s secretary.

“Everyone here is conscious this is what we do for other people,” said 84-year-old Lois Burnett, the “coffee lady” whose chicken noodle soup is in demand at blood drives.

The auxiliary was created at a time when practically all volunteer fire departments had one, but that is no longer the case, Wedge said. Although the Brookfield auxiliary is stronger than most with 20 active members out of 35 members, it struggles to attract new women, and sometimes pulls from other groups to staff events, Baker said.

People are busier these days and more women work, Wedge said.

“I don’t think people are as community-oriented as what they used to be,” she said.

The youngest auxiliary member is 50, and only four or five members still work, she said.

The auxiliary essentially abolished membership criteria in order to make it easier to be a member, and Baker noted that you don’t have to be a member to help at events.

Whatever the future of the group, Baker said the members remain dedicated.

“As long as we’re strong, we’ll just keep going as long as we can,” Baker said.

Ralph Baker, Raella Baker’s husband, said he admires the spirit of the group.

“Special group of women,” he said.

The auxiliary meets at 7 p.m. the first and third Tuesdays of the month in the fire department’s social hall. For information, call Raella Baker at 330-448-4386.