Jerry Straits has 50 years with MAFD

Photo by Martha Churchill
Standing in his yard, Jerry Straits proudly wears his Milan Area Fire Department sweatshirt. With 50 years as a Milan firefighter, he is entitled.

By Martha Churchill

Fifty years ago, joining the Milan Area Fire Department was a natural choice for Jerry Straits. “I worked for Ford Motor. I was 22,” Straits explains.
He looked up to his uncle, Vern Straits, who was in the fire department at the time.
Back then, the fire department was located in the “point” where East Main Street joins County Street.
The gear was simple, Straits says.  “A rubber raincoat and hip boots, waders.”
Things have changed a lot. “The turn-out gear today, we can go out into a much hotter fire.”
One of the worst fires Straits remembers was at Ford Motor Co “That was about 1980 or 81. We’d just gotten a new truck. That fire was hot! It was all plastic burning, that’s like gasoline burning.”
It was lucky the fire didn’t spread to the rest of the building, Straits says.
Another horrible fire he recalls was the Moose Lodge on Dec. 23, 1976. “Jim Manor and I were the first ones to pull up” at the fire, Straits says. “A woman was up there, trying to get out. We went up the ladder and broke the window. We got her out.”
The lady was the bartender’s wife, and they lived in the upstairs of the Moose Lodge, Straits noted.
The Moose had three ceilings, Straits commented. “Once the fire gets in there, five minutes later the rest went down. There was so much heat up there.” Nobody died in the Moose fire, Straits added.
Over the years, Straits has served as an officer at the MAFD, including a couple of stints as Chief. His daughter, Jennell, has served on the MAFD, and he has a grandson serving in the Clinton Fire Dept.
Straits says things have changed for the better over the years. Better safety equipment.
Better training. And, helping the community with quick medical assistance in emergencies.
Straits, 72, says he has no plans to quit. He’s getting ready to start year 51 with the MAFD.

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