Over the last 50 years Charlie Witter, Newell, has seen the Newell Fire Department change in many ways - the firefighters have changed, the equipment has evolved, but one thing that hasn't changed - the dedication he feels to the department.
At 78 years old, Witter says he still enjoys volunteering as a firefighter. He was recognized for 50 years and countles hours of service during a fundraiser meal Sunday. Representatives from the Iowa Fireman's Association were also there to extend their gratitude and appreciation.
"He's been a good firefighter for all those years, very dedicated to the department," says current Fire Chief Bruce Erie. Erie says whenever they needed help, Charlie was there. "He's kinda been my mentor," says Erie.
"He's taught us all something," adds Assistant Chief Mike Sexton.
When Ron Wilson of the Iowa Firemen's Association came to Storm Lake, one of the first guys he says he met was Charlie. "I thought he was Bruce's dad," he said. Wilson is a former Storm Lake Chief.
Witter joined the department in 1958 when he was 28 years old. "He's got a few more years to go," joked Erie who said he remembers one firefighter who had volunteered for 53 years. Witter joined after his cousin Dick passed away after a heart attack. Dick Witter had been a firefighter for Newell from 1930 to 1942 and then again from 1945 to 1958.
"I knew the chief at that time and he asked me if I'd join and take his (Dick's) place," he said. "So I did. Wanted to continued the Witter tradition I guess." Witter's Dad, Ed Witter had also been a fire fighter in Newell from 1935 to 1944. In addition, Charlie had three other cousins who had also spent some time volunteering for the department - Albert, Frank and Bill. However, Charlie has been the longest serving volunteer in the family.
"I can say I've had a great bunch of guys to work with," says Charlie. While at the Newell department Charlie served as both Assistant Fire Chief and Fire Chief.
Today's fire fighters have better protective gear and he says increased fire prevention education has helped cut down on the number of blazes over the years.
Witter's wife Bonnie was also recognized for her commitment of supporting Charlie and the department. "They (families) are just as much a part of the department as the firefighters are," said Erie.
The recognition ceremony was kept secret from Witter. While getting dressed for the fundraising dinner Charlie's wife Bonnie told him to put on a tie and he said he was a little confused about why he had to get all dressed up. "I saw a couple of them (firefighters) and they didn't have ties and some of them were wearing jeans," he said with a chuckle.
Officials from the Newell Department and officials from the Iowa Firemen's Association say they truly appreciate what volunteer firefighters like Charlie do for a community. "(The most rewarding part of the job) is being able to help people," says Charlie. "And not see anyone hurt," adds his wife.
The Witters reside in Newell and when Charlie isn't helping put out fires he helps manage the Newell Golf Course clubhouse and spends time with his three children Roger, Linda and Laurie, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. The Witters have been married for 60 years. Charlie has resided in Newell his entire life.