LUDLOW — Dick Amsden has seen firsthand how times have changed on the Ludlow Fire Department.
When Amsden joined the department in 1956, things weren’t quite as sophisticated as they are today.
“When I first got on,” Amsden said with a laugh, “they had like a four-wheel wagon like a hay rack with a water tank” that was used to fight fires. “The first one (to the firehouse) hooked it up to his car. They pumped the water by hand.”
How effective was it?
“It was according to how soon you got there,” he said.
The 83-year-old Amsden, who now lives in Paxton, was recently honored for his 63 years with the fire department after stepping down as a fire trustee.
Born and raised in Ludlow, Amsden joined the department when he was 21 — the earliest a person could join. The district was formed around 1949, and when he joined, the department was comprised of eight firefighters who lived in Ludlow and eight each on the west and east sides of town.
“When we got a fire call, we’d all head to Ludlow,” Amsden said.
He continued to serve as a firefighter until 1993, including a stint as chief from 1967-1982. After his firefighting days, he served as a fire trustee until “just a week or two ago,” he said.
In some ways, Amsden, who farmed in the Ludlow area, preferred the simpler times when there wasn’t so much paperwork to fill out after a fire.
“We used to just go to the fire,” he said. “Nowadays you’ve got all kinds of reports to fill out. Everybody worked to put the fire out and then put the equipment away. Now it’s just so much more complicated.”
There is also a great deal more training involved for firefighters.
Amsden has seen the department grow over the years. The department, which has five fire trucks, built a five-bay firehouse in 2009.
“We’ve got good equipment,” he said. “We’ve been buying used fire trucks from out east, and they’ve been serving us real well. We’ve got one new small truck to go to the field fires.”
Amsden said there haven’t been many big fires in Ludlow in the more than six decades he’s been affiliated with the department — mainly house fires — although one of the north elevators at Ludlow Co-op burned. The biggest ones have happened in Paxton, where Ludlow responded via mutual aid. He remembers the fires that destroyed or heavily damaged the Middlecoff Hotel, the lumber yard, Green Front Tavern, 102 Lounge, Paxton Majestic Theatre, the Chevy garage and the broom factory.
Amsden said he has enjoyed being on the fire department — “meeting the firemen. It was something to do once a week or twice a week. We usually had meetings.”
He retired from farming about five years ago.
Pat Quinlan, a current Ludlow fire trustee, said he joined the fire department when Amsden was chief.
“He was a good chief,” Quinlan said. “He’s always been good to work with and open to new ideas.”
He noted that Amsden was a trustee when the new fire house was built. He formerly served as board president.
“He was always there at the meetings and stuff and the fires. That’s the important part of being a volunteer. You could always count on him.”
The role of the trustees is to manage the financial portion of the district — “to handle the tax money,” Quinlan said. “They would make major decisions on like (buying a new truck). Usually a chief or one of the officers would propose something, and the trustees would have the final say. We would go through insurance once a year.”
Amsden said he has kept busy lately going to radiation treatments for prostate cancer. His first wife, Fern, died in 1994, from Huntington’s Disease. He and his present wife, Kay, have been married since 1996. Amsden has three daughters — Connie Loschen, Jane Self and Vicki McCoy.