Retired Moroni fire chief reflects on 47 years of service as volunteer
By Suzanne Dean
MORONI—When you’ve been doing something for 47 years, your memory of how you got started in the endeavor can be a little hazy.
Effective Oct. 1, Paul Anderson, 65, stepped down as Moroni’s fire chief after serving 47 years as a fireman and 22 years as chief.
Reflecting on his years of service and association with fellow firefighters, Anderson says, “It’s the volunteers in Sanpete County who run Sanpete County. I’m sorry, but I get emotional.” The communities of the county wouldn’t be what they are today, he says, “if it weren’t for volunteers.”
He was 19 when he joined the volunteer department. He and some friends were target shooting just outside town when they heard noises from one of the town fire trucks.
They found the truck and the fire. “Some kids had been playing with matches and set the house on fire,” Anderson says. The young men helped put the fire out.
He can’t remember if he asked to go on the force or if Dean Jensen, the chief at the time, asked him to join. He just knows that he’s been part of the Moroni volunteer fire department ever since.
Then, as now, Moroni had 12-15 volunteer fire fighters. Then, as now, they gathered the first Tuesday of every month for the “Eatn’ Meetn’” and came in most of the other Tuesdays for training.
The training wasn’t nearly as structured as now, he says. Now fire fighters work through a curriculum defined by the Sanpete County Fire District, Utah Fire Academy and Utah Valley University.
Anderson says in the 1970s, when someone called the fire department, the call rang on landline phones in all fire fighters’ homes or businesses simultaneously. The phones kept ringing until every line was answered.
In 1980, the department got pagers, which the firefighters still use today.
“We’ve always had really good guys,” Anderson says. “The number of people who respond [to fires] has always been very, very good.”
Over the years, the department has been through an array of fire trucks.
In his first years, he remembers a few chilly trips from Moroni to Fountain Green in a 1958 open-cab truck in the winter to assist with fires. That truck is now in the Utah Fire Museum in Grantsville, he says.
When he started out, the department had one other truck, a tanker a little like the water tenders some of the Sanpete departments have today. It carried a large quantity of water for fighting fires in locations that didn’t have hydrants. It was on loan from the state.
In 1986, Moroni applied to the Utah Community Impact Board (CIB) for funding for a new truck. He went to Salt Lake City to make a presentation to the CIB.
“They made the decision right on the spot.” he says. “It was quite exciting.”
The department bought a brand-new Chevrolet four-wheel-drive pumper truck from a company in Casper, Wyo. that marketed fire equipment.
In the 1980s, Leonard Blackham of Moroni, who was a county commissioner at the time, took the lead in organizing the Sanpete County Fire District. The idea was to collect a fee on all utility bills in the county and use the money to purchase fire equipment and provide training for all local departments.
Anderson was named to the fire district board. He stepped down recently about the same time he retired as Moroni fire chief. He was the last of the original board members.
By the 1990s, the fire district had taken over purchase of fire trucks. In 1996, the district purchased three new pumper trucks, and Moroni got one of them. It passed its 1986 truck down to Wales, which had just started a department.
Today, the department has five trucks. It still has the 1996 truck. About seven years ago, it got a new pumper. “It’s a big, tall truck with some wild land capabilities along with street capabilities,” Anderson says.
The department also has three brush trucks, including one 1947 model that is still serviceable. “We call it the bumblebee,” he says.
One of the memorable fires Anderson has fought was an attack fire that broke out on the Fourth of July at the home of Mack Morley, a former mayor of the town.
The Morleys had relatives visiting and had hooked up a motor home to their power. “It was a very, very hot day,” Anderson says, and the circuits got overloaded.
“We had a hole in the roof and a little smoke damage,” but it could have been much worse, he says. “That’s one of the ones I’m most proud of.”
He says he’s also proud of the part the Moroni department played in the 2012 Oak City Complex Fire, a fire that broke out near Oak City, Millard County, and grew into one of the largest wildfires in Utah history.
Moroni Feed, the turkey producing company at the time, had a breeder farm in Juab County east of where the fire started. The flames were approaching the farm, and there were no resources nearby to fight it. The president of the company called Anderson and asked if the Moroni department, given the community’s interest in the welfare of the company, could do something.
“We took a couple of trucks over,” Anderson says. “If we hadn’t been there, we would have lost a couple of buildings.”
In the early 1980s, two fire department members, Danny Dyches and David Livingston, acting independently, put together a small fireworks show for the Moroni Fourth of July.
After a few years, the fire department took over the project, made the fireworks safer, and built one of the biggest fireworks displays in the county, with all fireworks locally assembled.
Loading scores of fireworks tubes with explosives every year takes “hundreds of man hours,” Anderson says, but the fire department volunteers love it.
Anderson owns Anderson Service Center, an auto shop on the east end of Moroni. For many decades, Moroni Feed owned and operated the shop, and Anderson worked for the feed company. In 2007, the company decided it didn’t want the shop any more, and in 2012, Anderson bought it.
He has also operated a turkey farm all his adult life.
He married his wife, Sheila, a few months before he joined the fire department. They have five adult children. His sons Jeremy, Wade and Trenton all live in Moroni. All of them work for their dad. Jeremy and Wade work at the service center, and Trenton takes care of the turkeys.
Another son, Tyler, lives in New Mexico, and a daughter, Brooke, lives in West Point, Davis County.
Anderson told the Moroni City Council at its September meeting that while he’s stepping down as fire chief, he’s staying on as a rank-and-file firefighter for the time being.