On a quiet street nestled among redwoods along the Russian River, a fire phone would ring in a house. Rosie Bohny, wife of assistant fire chief Alfred Bohny, Jr. of the Monte Rio Volunteer Fire Department, answered, “What’s your distress?” When necessary, Rosie would sound the alarm [horn] from her bedroom. At a moment’s notice, business owners and residents serving as volunteer firefighters left their businesses or homes and rushed to the firehouse for dispatch.

My husband Troy, Al and Rosie’s youngest son, tells of his excitement as a boy going on calls with his dad. Al, as he was known, worked full time as a machinist. It took a village back then to take care of each other, share responsibilities, even look after each other’s children. They were friends who became family. Rosie still volunteers secretarial services to the department and to Pole Mountain in Cazadero.
Volunteer-based departments in our surrounding communities are highly dependent on public financial support to fund their mission. Gone are the days of Firemen Dances, which were hugely popular, but family-friendly events are now a great alternative. Former Monte Rio Volunteer Chief Emil Alberigi is still on the board, served as captain for 20 years and volunteers as head cook for events. The annual Fourth of July Barbecue and Water Parade has long been a popular tradition.

Monte Rio’s current Fire Chief Steve Baxman has been called a hero in his own right. He started as a volunteer for the Freestone Department and came to Monte Rio at age 18 in November 1970. You would be surprised at the calls the department receives for public assistance, from natural disasters to fires and everything in between. Most of it involves being that good neighbor, friend or host to vacationers visiting the town.

Steve says his department has 10 volunteers currently. They do all they can to be available, but the truth is Monte Rio and so many of our Sonoma County rural areas are now merely bedroom communities. People have to travel great distances to work so few are around during the day; and when they get home, they have busy lives and family obligations. Steve showed me a calendar of weekly and monthly trainings and drills, proving that being a volunteer firefighter takes huge dedication.
Since Rosie isn’t blasting horns from her home any longer, I asked about the notification system. Pager and text systems work quickly, and response times are still very good; however, that could be a continuing challenge in the future if more small volunteer departments succumb to financial hardships and lack of volunteers.

As for Steve Baxman, he has been living and breathing this life since he was 10 years old. I posed the question of how he deals with the stress of seeing horrible things, or how he makes time for himself. He told me of his wonderful worldly travels with his “sweetie,” yet he thoughtfully works his travels around weather and fire danger times.

As we were winding down our conversation, a man pulled up to the station, saying a wall was coming down up on the hill above the station. Steve and I said our goodbyes, and he rode off like a cowboy to save residents from a possible landslide.

Below is a list of upcoming events from July through September that provide lots of fun and much needed financial support to local volunteer fire departments. Please be mindful to swing by as many events as you can and get to know the people behind those suits.

July 1: Monte Rio Fire Protection District Annual July 4th Barbecue, headquarters fire station, Monte Rio, 11 a.m.- 6 p.m. monteriofire.org

July 27: Monte Rio Fire Variety Show Barbecue, Monte Rio Amphitheater. 4-7 p.m. monterioshow.org

July 15: Wine Country to the Rescue: Wine tasting, dinner by Northern Sonoma County firefighters. winecountrytotherescue.com

August 6: Bodega Volunteer Fire Department Bodega Big Event,10 a.m-5 p.m.

August 26 & 27: Bodega Seafood, Art & Wine Festival. bodegafire.org

Check other local departments for fundraisers throughout the year: cloverdalefiredistrict.com; forestvillefire.org; goldridgefire.org; gratonfire.com; ci.healdsburg.ca.us/248/Fire-Department; russianriverfire.org; facebook.com/valleyfordfire; cscfire.org. SD