Jeff Shepherd is photographed near the Kent Volunteer Fire Department’s tanker and pumper trucks. Shepherd has been serving with the department since 1981. The department’s original Articles of Incorporation, signed and stamped in October 1964, will be displayed with other historical pieces during an anniversary celebration on Saturday, Oct. 4. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Jeff Shepherd is photographed near the Kent Volunteer Fire Department’s tanker and pumper trucks. Shepherd has been serving with the department since 1981. The department’s original Articles of Incorporation, signed and stamped in October 1964, will be displayed with other historical pieces during an anniversary celebration on Saturday, Oct. 4. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
The founders of the Kent Volunteer Fire Department signed their articles of incorporation in October 1964. Jeff Shepherd wasn't on the department back then, but with more than 33 years of service, this second-generation firefighter has seen the KFVD come a long way.

Shepherd, who works in the coal yard at the Indiana-Kentucky Electric Corporation Clifty Creek Power Plant, grew up on a farm in Kent. His father was a firefighter.

"We had moved to town when I was young," Shepherd said. "One night we had a fire in a field on our property and when my dad was out there helping show the firefighters how to get to the fire without getting stuck in any ditches, they said, 'You need to join the department.' He said OK and joined up."

In March of 1981, Shepherd decided to follow in his father's footsteps.

"I didn't join because I wanted to run the lights and get in on the excitement. I saw from being around my dad that there was a lot more to being a firefighter in a small department than that," Shepherd said. "For me, helping out the community and knowing there's a need there - I guess that's about all I can say about it. I just joined to try to help out."

When he first joined, Shepherd says the department fought a lot of field fires. "Those got pretty intense sometimes. Figuring out which way it was going and deciding what you had to do before it got out of hand - getting to buildings and other properties."

The most intense and sustained firefighting Shepherd recalls all happened in one 24-hour period in January 1985.

"One of the dorms at Hanover College was on fire, and it was 10-below-zero outside. Hanover called for our help and a ladder truck from Madison. I want to say it was somewhere around one o'clock in the morning.

We were there for a good long time and helped them get the fire knocked down and in the meantime we got called to another fire. So we left the college and took care of a chimney fire down in the country over near Deputy.

Luckily, we were able to get it taken care of - it got really hot in the attic, but it didn't burn the house down. Then we got back to the firehouse and we knew that there had been TV crews out at the college, and it was now about 6:30 or seven in the morning - TV news time. So we turned on the little TV we had in the back office and thought, maybe we'll see ourselves on TV."

But that moment of rest didn't last long, Shepherd said.

"We just got to see the first little clip on the TV before we got paged out to another fire. This time it was 1000 West and it was the Sanders' big farm house. It burned it down to the ground. We were there and trying to save what we could, but all the trucks were freezing up. We had Hanover there to help, Deputy was there, but the trucks were all frozen up and they couldn't do us any good.

We ended up with just one truck that we kept going, and we did what we could with it till it was all out."

Finally done with the long night and day of fighting fires, Shepherd said, "When it was all said and done and we had everything back to the station and cleaned up - I want to say it was about three o'clock in the afternoon. I was only about 23 years old at the time, but by the time I got home I just fell on the couch. I was out. I was done."

That day was bad, but Shepherd says that "Our worst day as a department ever was when we lost Greg Cloud in '06."

A plaque honoring Cloud's memory hangs in the truck garage and a monument is displayed prominently outside the building.

Being a firefighter has challenges and being a part of a volunteer department has particular challenges all their own.

"Some guys have too much going on to really keep with it and it is tough to juggle. Families and jobs - we don't fault anybody for not keeping with it. It's just a fact, you've got to put your family first. Those of us who are here have always just jumped in to do what you can, when you can."

"I'm getting to be one of the older members here now so I don't go on as many fire runs as a lot of the younger guys do," says Shepherd, who is a trustee with the department. "But I do what I can on the business side and on the work details."

Even though Shepherd has achieved a kind of senior status among the younger firefighters, he gives all of the respect to the firefighters of the past who worked hard to make sure the community would have and retain a fire department of its own.

One of the biggest changes to the department that Shepherd says he has seen has been increased community support and support from the Republican Township and Smyrna Township trustees. "The biggest thing by far, though is our food booth at the county fair," Shepherd said. "That's been a big plus to get us through, even through the lean years."

Recounting the past, he said that his dad would tell stories - from before Shepherd joined the department - of when they would have to beg and borrow to keep the department running.

"There were times when they would pass a hat around in a meeting at the firehouse and the members would pony up money just to pay the electric bill.

"That really took dedication from them. You know, it's enough to fight fires and help with fish fry's, but when you're taking money out of your own pocket to keep the place going - that's the one's we've got to look up to."