Donations and determination help build new Newport fire hall

The Newport Rural Fire Department is quite thankful these days, because of a new fire station in town.

This fire station is the result of years of dedication, determination, and donations. "We just started getting together, and talking it over and seeing what we could come up with," Newport resident Betty Christensen said. "But we never thought there would be this much of a building."

In April of 2011, the idea of building a new Newport fire hall started taking shape. Betty Christensen was at the center of the conversation. "I call her our cheerleader," Newport firefighter Jay Stewart said. "We would get a little down, and say 'gosh, this is going to cost too much. There's no way people will donate the money. Who is going to want to put in the time?' But, she would just keep calling a meeting, you know."

After countless firemen's balls, pancake suppers, and gifts from local citizens, construction of the fire hall did, in fact, get underway. Wildfires in 2012 demonstrated just how important local fire departments can be. If you saw the old Newport fire hall, you would know that changes were necessary. "One of the main concerns is that it had just one door going in and out," Newport firefighter Rich Munk said. "You could only fit one truck in at at time. So, if the first truck had a problem starting, you literally had to hook a chain on it and drag it clear out of the way to get everything else out."

Firefighters had to squeeze between vehicles in the old building just to move around. "The roof was bad enough to where if it rained outside, it was raining inside," Munk said. "Our heating bill was just outrageous. If it got cold, we could burn through 500 gallons of propane in 30 days, just to keep it 45 degrees in there."

So, Betty Christensen, along with local volunteer firefighters, set their sights on a new building. It started out as just a vacant lot. Now, the building is providing many services and benefits to the community. "There's been things happening," Christensen said. "They have had movies for the kids, family reunions, several graduation dinners for the seniors, and the firemen now have a decent place to meet twice a month." The fire station also stands as something quite special for Betty Christensen. "I consider it a memorial to my husband, and his two brothers," Christensen said.

Thanks to media coverage, the community's effort to build a fire hall reached cities like Lincoln, and people donated from afar. "We had people from Lincoln, a lot of people from Lincoln send money to help out. It was really nice, and I kept track of several families, and I still hear from them at times," Christensen said.

The fire department is still taking donations, as they are finishing up the payments on the building, and they are always in need of new equipment. But things are looking up, thanks to the donations from three different counties, and the determination of citizens like 91-year-old Betty Christensen, who want to see towns like Newport live on.