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Prairie Pulse

Cottonwood fire chief committed to protecting community

Roy Uhlenkott’s great-grandfather bought a plot of land just south of the monastery in Cottonwood from a gentleman who had failed his homesteading bid. Roy’s great-grandfather built a home there and raise his family. Roy, his father and grandfather also raised their families in the same house.

With Roy's family being rooted so deeply in a community, this helped develop a commitment to making Cottonwood a better place to live. Some individuals go to work daily and punch in, get their job done and clock out. Roy is invested.

“If you’re not being progressive, all you get is junk,” he said.

Roy not only works for the City of Cottonwood as public works director, he was recently elected for another term as chief of the Cottonwood Volunteer Fire Department. He has worked for the city since 2004 and been with the fire department since that time.

When snowfall covers the city, Roy leads his city crew plowing the streets. This year was especially busy, with consistent snow and ice from December through March.

When the rains saturate the ground, Roy works with his employees and North Idaho Correctional Institute to fill sandbags. Friday, March 10, the crew had their work cut out for them. Water ran high in Cottonwood Creek, reaching almost to the top of the culvert. Roy had his team on standby to position sandbags if the water level began rising.

And when a call comes in for a structure fire, Roy and his 18 volunteers suit up and head out.

“Ideally, we would have 20 to 22 volunteers,” he said. “We’ve got a great bunch of young recruits. We couldn’t more fortunate right now.”

He said he stepped into a well-oiled machine and couldn’t accomplish what he does without his assistant chief, Greg Danly, and captains, Clint Riener and Daniel Sigler.

It’s not easy getting a fire call, he said. In a community of less than 1,000 people, chances are you know the family involved.

Roy said something happens, though, when a fire call or need for extrication arrives. His mind turns immediately to his training, and he focuses on resolving the problem.

He said, it’s later, when he gets home that he processes the events. It can weigh heavy on the volunteers knowing a family’s life has changed, sometimes left with nothing. It’s especially difficult when the crew knows almost everyone in the community by name.

Roy said he’s thankful Cottonwood hasn’t seen a major fire event like the 1908 fire that destroyed Main Street. And he takes great pride in the upgrades the department has made during his tenure. The city re-purposed the former city hall and city shop into the fire station, purchased two fire trucks and an extrication truck, and added vehicles to the rural fire department.

And more importantly, every day without a disaster Roy goes home thankful.

Laurie Chapman writes about the people, places and events bringing the prairie to life in the weekly blog, Prairie Pulse. If you have a suggestion, contact Laurie by email at lchapman@idahocountyfreepress.comor by phone at 208-983-1200.

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