Veteran firefighter still plays vital role with department, chief says
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and where there’s fire, there’s Jerry Hubing, at least for the past 50 years.
The longtime Village of Belgium resident was recently honored for half a century of service to the Belgium Fire Department, and good luck keeping him away at this point. Hubing still stops at the station every day to check the whiteboard for any tasks Chief Dan Birenbaum posts.
“We had a lot of fun,” Hubing said of his volunteer career so far.
Hubing is one of three longtime fire department members who help maintain the trucks and station. Don Weyker has been with the department for more than 50 years and Steve Bley 44 years. Chief Dan Birenbaum said they play a vital role.
“If they wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be here,” he said. “They taught us everything they knew.”
It didn’t take long for Hubing to take a leadership role with the department. One year after being voted in as a member, he was chosen as department president.
A Belgium native, Hubing used to live a block from the fire department. In the pre-pager and cell phone era, the noon whistle would blow to alert firefighters to come to the station. Often the first one there, Hubing would break a glass box, reach inside and unlock the door. Driving directions to the building on fire would come via a phone in the fire station.
All the gear was stored on one utility truck, unlike individual uniforms today.
“If the boots fit or not, you put them on,” Hubing said. “Whatever was there you grabbed.”
Now when he hears a fire truck siren, Hubing knows he will soon be grabbing towels from the well-stacked shelf in the station. Trucks get cleaned after each call.
“He’s the laundry man,” Birenbaum said with a laugh.
Hubing usually drove the tanker truck, oftentimes to barn fires started by hot hay. Hubing still remembers shoveling out the gassy, smelly stuff.
A couple of major calls stand out.
The Allen Edmunds fire in January 1984 is memorable because of the nearly unbearable cold. Birenbaum said the temperature was about 30 degrees below zero with wind chills reaching minus 70.
Crews began fighting the fire about 9 p.m. and worked around the clock. Hoses froze and water wouldn’t come out. After the fire, portable heaters were brought to the fire station to help thaw out and untangle the hoses.
Another big emergency was the ice storm of 1976.
Power was out for about a week in the area. Firefighters hauled water for cattle and delivered power generators.
Regardless of the task, the department maintained its sense of community.
“Everybody worked together,” Hubing said. “Everybody pitched in.”
Even around the holidays. The fire department would string lights from pole to pole in the village. Hubing remembers having to peel one fellow firefighter’s fingers off of a ladder as he was afraid to come down.
Hubing responded to fires into the late 1980s. Now, he helps maintain the seven trucks and attends a weekly fire department meeting with Birenbaum, Weyker and Bley on Tuesday nights.
Hubing has seen significant changes in fighting fires since he joined the department in 1965.
“You didn’t have to do the schooling you do now,” he said. “It was altogether different than it is now.”
Hubing doesn’t miss the days of the pagers. In addition to fire calls, any weather alerts would set off the devices. Often, those would come in the middle of the night and he couldn’t get back to sleep.
One of 15 children, he is the third brother to join the department. His late brother Emil served for 50 years, and Melvin served for nearly that long.
Hubing doesn’t have a problem with committing to much of anything. He worked as a machine operator at Simplicity in Port Washington for 39 years — the company allowed him to leave for fire calls — and has been married to Arlene for 59.
His daily commitment to the department is not lost on his wife.
“I always know where he is,” she said. “He still enjoys it so that’s good.”
Hubing was recently recognized for his contributions to the fire department with a plaque presented by Fire Chief Dan Birenbaum. Photo by Sam Arendt