The head of Altona/Rhineland Emergency Services says 2018 was an exciting year for the fire department. Greg Zimmerman said the year was marked by a growth in membership, new initiatives, and equipment and training upgrades.

Richard Bage joined the department as Chaplain in July.Seven new members were welcomed into the fold this past year, one of them was local pastor Richard Bage who is serving as department chaplain - a first for the agency.

"It's awesome. Richard is an awesome individual and is working very well with our department," said Zimmerman. "(The firefighters) think it's great too. I haven't heard a bad word, everybody appreciates having him on board."

However, the department's cadet corps shrank in size in 2018 with three of the cadets reaching legal age and advancing as new recruits.

Zimmerman added members also underwent some rigorous training this past year including First Aid re-certification, rescue practices, hazardous materials operations, and critical incident stress management. Nine members took basic firefighting courses to kickstart their learning while others advanced their skills through becoming Level 1 Fire Service Instructors and earning Incident in Command credentials.

The department's fleet also grew in 2018 with the addition of a 55 ft. pumper/ladder truck and a larger water tanker boasting a 4,200-gallon capacity, up from the old truck's 2,500-gallon holding tank. Additionally, 21 new self-contained breathing apparatus were purchased for the department.

Members also logged 79 calls for service this past year, up nine from 2017. Forty-eight of the calls were within Altona, and thirty-one came from the department's response area in the Municipality of Rhineland.

Zimmerman said 2019 is shaping up to be another positive year for the department with ongoing training and the addition of a second house at the training site on the outskirts of Altona.

Because the tanker truck is essentially used exclusively in rural areas, the purchase was funded entirely by the Municipality of Rhineland.