Rye Fire Department Is A One-Man Show


by Mike Burkett

roundup staff reporter

"If there's a fire in Rye, you don't call the fire department. You call the local bar and see if the fireman's sober enough to go to the fire," Don Garvin quips.

He should know. He's the fireman.

"When I am sober, I'm very quick on the response," Garvin said. "I'll get there in a day or so. On one of my trucks I've got some hot dog holders, just in case I'm a little late. By the way, if we're gonna have a fire, we've got to have two weeks advance notice, and we don't do basements or second stories ..."

Under normal circumstances, it is not a safe thing to take anything Garvin says seriously. The owner/operator of the Rye Creek Bar and Restaurant is virtually incapable of forming sentences which do not include punchlines.

But at the moment, Garvin is having fun with an issue he takes very seriously: the potential fire hazards of his town, where the average response time of the Payson Fire Department is approximately 15 minutes.

"Fire can cause a lot of damage in that amount of time," Garvin says without going for a joke. "So I figured that if we had some equipment locally, we'd have a good chance of shooting it out."

Hence, the formation of Rye's unofficial one-man fire department, in which the fire chief, fire marshal, fireman, equipment operator and dispatcher are all the same person: Don Garvin.

To the unknowing, the three fire trucks parked near the Rye Creek Bar two 1,000-gallon pumper trucks and one with a 400-gallon tank, each manufactured in the early 1950s would suggest that Garvin is an antique-vehicle collector. But his interest in firefighting equipment is strictly limited to its ability to function in an emergency.

Earlier this week, someone who had spotted a small brush fire between Rye and Deer Creek ran into Garvin's bar to make a 911 call to the Payson Fire Department. The telephone connection had barely been made before Garvin was aboard one of his old pump trucks.

"Within about, oh, four minutes or so, I'd squirted it out," he said.

Garvin has doused seven or eight fires in the Rye area in the several months since he volunteered himself, to himself, to help protect his community.

Asked if he has any professional firefighting experience, Garvin laughs as if he'd been asked if he'd ever been married to Marilyn Monroe. "Heaven's, no!," he roars. "All I know is that if there's a fire, somebody's got to put some water on it. We're not too professional down here!"

However, Garvin is professional enough to refrain from biting off more than his equipment and experience can chew.

"A while back we had a trailer fire across the street," he remembers. "It was one of those old, eighth-of-an-inch veneer trailers that takes about 10 minutes to burn to the ground.

"I grabbed a few guys out of the bar and we got there, but it was just too hot. We couldn't do anything. But nobody could have."

Grabbing guys in his bar, by the way, is Garvin's usual way of enlisting assistance.

"One Sunday morning there was a fire reported in Hog Creek Wash," he remembers. "Somebody had been playing with some pyrotechnics. There was quite a bit of wind, and it was spreading pretty fast.

"Well, I can't pull out the hose too quickly all by myself, so I just grabbed this young man from the Colorado Springs U.S. Air Force Academy who was vacationing in Rye don't ask me why and I said, 'Hey! Grab this hose, run up to the top of the hill and squirt that fire out!'

"So that's who we've got for firemen in Rye: whoever's in the bar that's strong enough to pull a hose for an old guy!"

And when the real firefighters arrive, that old guy has every intention of moving aside.

"We just do whatever we can to give the Payson Fire Department a little hand," Garvin said. "We try not to get in their way. But most folks down here seem to be happy about this setup, because if something does happen that needs a quick response, we're a lot more prepared to help out."

Garvin is also always prepared to help out with a laugh. Painted on the side of one of his fire trucks are the words, "Hog Creek Fire Company Phone: Unlisted."

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