Shawnee’s 1st 50 Years
City Fire and Rescue Company Celebrates Anniversary

Monday, January 26, 2004

By Laura Arenschield
The Winchester Star

The past, present, and future intertwine into one neat braid at Shawnee Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company on Weems Lane.

Founders, firefighters, and their families celebrated Shawnee’s belated golden anniversary Jan. 17 at its new Weems Lane building, the third station in the company’s 51-year tenure.

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Shawnee Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company’s Fire Chief Russell “Tater” Kerns (left) and President Jay Bailey recently joined in the celebration of Shawnee’s 50th year of service.
(Photo by Rick Foster)

The Weems Lane fire hall, which opened more than three months ago, still smells of paint and sawed wood.

Some firefighters are new to the company, first-generation Shawnee. Others, like Fire Chief Russell “Tater” Kerns, have been around “since birth.”

Kerns’ father, as a teenager, used to hang out at the first Shawnee Fire Station in the 1950s. Charles Kerns eventually became a career firefighter for Shawnee; his son followed suit.

“There’s about seven of us who have all been here for about 20 years or so,” Russell Kerns said. “We’ve all been here and we’ve all watched it continually grow.”

The Shawnee station was located on Roosevelt Boulevard for most of the company’s time in Winchester. Shawnee’s founders moved there in 1955, two years after the fire company started operation.

The Weems Lane station opened Oct. 4, 2003, complete with a state-of-the-art kitchen, a large living room, Internet access, and open sleeping quarters.

Trophies bestowed for a variety of achievements over the past half-century gleam inside a hallway trophy case. An antique-looking lamp, which once lit the original Shawnee station, sits next to the plaques, a quiet reminder of the past.

“We keep taking it with us from the old stations,” Russell Kerns said.

Virginia Ruckman and her late husband, Elmo, were two of a group of founders who started the company. Ruckman, a feisty 84-year-old woman, still volunteers at Shawnee bingo games every other week.

In the 50-plus years since Shawnee began, she has watched its members start families and seen their children, including Russell Kerns, grow.

“I remember when he was just a boy,” she said.

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This photo from October 2003 shows the new Shawnee Fire Hall on Weems Lane.
(File Photo by Rick Foster)

In 1951, Ruckman helped organize a ladies auxiliary organization that raised money for Shawnee’s first fire truck, a 1-ton dual wheel Chevrolet that cost $1,000.

Today, a new fire truck for Shawnee would cost about $400,000, Russell Kerns said.

Ernie Nesselrodt, another of the station’s founders, said the original group started the fire company for the simple reason that “there was a need.”

“(Shawnee) was formed as a (Frederick) County company because back in 1953, the city would not go out into the county,” Nesselrodt said. “I lived in the county ... and the man who ran Clearbrook Fire Department — he was a good friend of mine — and he told me there was a bad need for a fire department in the south end of Winchester. You only had Clearbrook, Stephens City, Gore, and there wasn’t anything close.”

Winchester annexed the area around Shawnee’s Roosevelt Boulevard fire hall in 1971, making the county company part of the city.

Throughout the years, Kerns said, Shawnee Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company has tried to remain true to its original purpose: Keeping citizens safe.

“Our motto is, ‘Always to serve,’” Kerns said. “And we haven’t lost that yet.”