In 1955, a group of volunteer firefighters from the Lisbon-Seward Fire Protection District in Plattville decided they needed to hold a fundraiser to buy equipment for the volunteer department. Pancake breakfasts were popular at the time, but the group wanted something different, so they decided on a pancake dinner.
“Pancakes aren’t for supper, they are for breakfast,” Bruce Knudson remembered people said when the idea began. Knudson’s father, Silas, was one of the original men who began this 63-year tradition. Other members of the original pancake dinner committee included firefighters Rudy Langeland, Gerald Finnistad, Paul Leifahiet, Don Horton, Dale Gargrave and John Lawson.
Like his father, Knudson joined the fire department, and he was a volunteer from 1963 until 1997.
He sat at dinner with friends March 10 at the Lisbon-Seward Fire Protection District Company 2 pancake dinner and watched many new generations take over the tradition his father and other firefighters began.
“This is a community get together, it’s tradition. We don’t have schools here anymore, so this is the melting pot-type of thing where everyone comes out to support the fire department so they can buy equipment and so on,” Knudson said. “I’m getting to be an old-timer and I look around and see younger families and young people helping out.”
Doors to the United Plattville Association, an old armory building at 6617 Chicago Road, opened at 4 p.m. and hungry guests were there first thing.
Volunteers from the fire department as well as other departments flipped pancakes, stirred mix and made the coveted sausage patties from the department’s own signature recipe.
Volunteer firefighter Brian Newell said retired firefighter John Benson created the sausage recipe and sent it to Freedom Sausage Inc. in Earlville. Each year, the company creates a batch of sausage for this pancake dinner.
Vats of freshly ground sausage were rolled into balls and placed in bins to simmer. The guests enjoy them as is, but if one goes back into the kitchen, the cooks dip their sausage with A-1 steak sauce for a little kick.
The dinner was served family style. Guests paid for their tickets and were seated by a volunteer. As soon as they sat down, volunteers carried out platters heaped with steaming pancakes fresh from the griddle, homemade sausage, sweet applesauce and chocolate pudding for a dessert at the end.
Lisbon-Seward Company 2 Chief Tim Wallace said the dinner has been a success even though the pancake meals have begun to die out, because of the sense of community it brings.
“People look forward to gathering of the local community. We seat people who don’t know each other at a table and the next thing you know, they stay an extra half hour talking. The roots go back deep with the volunteer fire department,” Wallace said.
Lisbon-Seward Company 2 volunteer firefighter Michelle Salato said this event is one of her favorites because she can see everyone on good terms rather than when she’s out on a call.
“I like seeing everybody and some of these people I only see once a year. Some do stop by the fire station to say ‘hi’ if we are out with the trucks or the doors are open,” Salato said.
Newell said between the dinner and the silent auction items, funds raised can be anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 and the money goes toward items the department needs that do not make the budget the trustees have set in place.
He said he was hoping to purchase a thermal imaging camera, which would allow firefighters to see areas of heat through smoke or other barriers.
Wallace said the total budget for department for the year was $120,000, which was low when one considers the hefty price tag on equipment as well as insurance, maintenance and staff training.
One thing Wallace said has happened over the years was the decline of volunteers on fire departments, and not just in Plattville, but all over the nation. Volunteer fire departments suffer because those living in the small towns commute elsewhere for work, which leaves them out of area if a call comes during the work day. The high cost of living demands one to possibly take a job at a fire department instead of being a part of a volunteer company. And, to become a certified firefighter in the state requires training, which once again takes time away from a job that pays and family time.
The Lisbon-Seward Fire Protection District Company 2 has 12 volunteers as well as Company 1 in Lisbon. Wallace said the companies used to have 25 volunteers in each. He said the Lisbon-Seward Fire Protection District Company 2 serves 1,500 people with a 55-square-mile area, even though Plattville only has around 300 residents. Wallace said people have moved out of cities and into the country more, and the progression has come west toward their area, so calls have doubled in seven years and volunteers have gone down.
“I hope this district can keep the 12 going, I don’t want to see it [the fire department] go away,” Wallace said.