Kraus comes to the rescue for Long Meadow

May 16, 1997


Staff Writer

Jim Kraus is president of the Long Meadow Volunteer Fire Department, but don't ask him to put out any blazes.

Kraus has never ridden a company fire truck, and wouldn't be allowed if he wanted to.

But when he learned at an open house two years ago that the fire company needed help, Kraus said he did not hesitate.

"I don't climb ladders, don't pull hoses, don't eat smoke," said Kraus, 71, who was elected the department's president in January. "But I can help out on the administrative end."


Kraus, of Spring Valley, went to work, helping raise money and plan events such as the company's annual carnival.

Washington County fire officials say they need more people like Kraus, who is a committed volunteer willing to help out even though he has no firefighting experience.

Volunteer departments' need for qualified firefighters has been well-publicized in recent years. People to help raise money and keep the station running also are important, officials say.

"The problem is, we need more Jim Krauses," said former chief Justin Mayhue, now Long Meadow's lieutenant and chief engineer.

Chief Richard Roche said the laws and regulations governing firefighting have become more complex while the department has gotten busier. Roche said the company responded to about 600 calls last year, up from about 50 when it was formed 25 years ago.

Keeping up with the administrative chores becomes too great for volunteer firefighters, Roche said.

At an open house in 1995, Roche said the department launched an all-out effort to demonstrate its problems.

"We just flat-out laid the hardships on the ground," he said. "We were just flat-out taxed to the max."

Kraus, who was at that meeting, stepped forward. A retired president of Handy Harman Automotive Group, Kraus said he had management and business experience that could help the department.

Since taking over in January, he said, he has worked to streamline the department's business practices and simplify its computer system.

"The fire companies are at the beginning of what I believe is a rather major transition," said Kraus, who said county government has demanded stricter accounting procedures.

While he does not have firefighting experience - regulations bar him from riding along on a fire call - Kraus said he has experience running a business. From a management end, he said there is little difference between fighting fires and making car parts.

"All businesses are basically the same," he said. "The same basic principles apply. It's just a different product."

Roche said Long Meadow was lucky to get someone with Kraus' talents and background.

Most fire company presidents in Washington County are either active firefighters or former firefighters, Roche said. But increasingly, he said, the companies need people with business backgrounds.

Roche predicted that departments in the future will seek - and even pay - administrators with such backgrounds. In addition, he said, Kraus has the corporate connections to boost fund-raising among businesses.

Robert "Meredith" Haynes, who was Kraus' controller at Handy Harman before retiring last year, is helping to simplify the computer system. He said Kraus is good at assessing talent and giving people jobs they can handle.

Kraus said he is happy to lend his expertise, but said the real heroes are the volunteers who risk their lives to fight fires.

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