Chris Ohmen Interview
This is file #13, cycle 4. Today’s date is June 18, 2019. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Chris Ohmen who is the Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He is going to talk about the fire department, the Veterans of foreign Wars as well as his military service. But first we’ll start with the hard stuff…
JM:What is your name?
CO:My name is Christopher Ohmen.
JM:How did you get involved with the fire department?
CO:When I was 2 years old, I moved next door to the fire house in North Canaan, and then I fell in love with being a fire fighter.
JM:You have some other family background involved with this?
CO:I do. My grandfather on my father’s side was a founding member of the Warren Volunteer Fire Department.
JM:You wife is related to…
CO:My wife is related to the Brazzale family of Salisbury of whom there were many Brazzales that served with the fire department here in town. Her grandfather Peter Brazzale was a long time chief. Her step-father Brian was a long time member, 20 plus years, and her brothers Nick and Brian joined through the Junior Fire Fighting Department. (See Jennifer Farwell interview).
JM:It just goes on from there
JM:When did you join specifically?
CO:I joined the fire service at a junior in January 14, 1997 at the Canaan Fire Company. I befriended a couple of kids from town and I subsequently joined the Lakeville Volunteer fire Department as a junior. In October of 2001 I became a regular member of the Lakeville Hose Company here in town.
JM:You have several different types of training?
CO:Firefighter #1, firefighter #2, hazardous materials operations, road rescue #1 and #2, extrication, advanced extrication, and a slew of others.
JM:Do you have to pay for this training out of your own pocket?
CO:Luckily in our beautiful town, there is a budget for training. The town does take care of most of the training.
JM:It takes a number of hours for these different courses.2.
CO:It does. It is hundreds of hours for fire fighter #1, and firefighter #2.
JM:It is worth it to those of us that you rescue.
CO:Thank you. And for us to feel that we are giving back to the community as well.
JM:How often do you have to be recertified?
JM:Fire fighter #1 and #2 there is not a recertification, so to speak. There are requirements you have to fulfill throughout the year: air packs every three months, live fire training once a year, hazardous material is every year. Of course there are the blood born/airborne diseases.
JM:Do you carry Narcon?
CO:We do not because we are not trained for the medical part of that. We can do certain things, but that is not one of them.
JM:That part gets passed over to the EMT or the ambulance crew. Your uniform weighs a lot.
CO:The uniform does weigh quite a bit. Between the boots which have come a long way from being rubber ¾ boots, the leather boots and even the pants and the jacket themselves have significantly decreased in weight between that and the air pack, you are still looking at 75 to 100 pounds of extra weight.
JM:You have been an officer in the fire department?
CO:I have. I have served two years as First Lieutenant and also two years as Assistant Chief.
JM:Who is chief now?
CO:Robert Smith Jr. is our current chief.
JM:About how many members are in the department?
CO:There is somewhere in the area of 50 members of the Lakeville Hose Company.
JM:The average age is about 50?
CO:That is also accurate. Nobody is getting any younger. I am one of the younger ones. There are probably a dozen of us that are under the age of 40. That is about it.
JM:How do you get chosen to be an officer?
CO:Each year the first Monday of November we have our Annual Election of officers. There are requirements to be eligible to run for a specific position. Basically there are two ways they can run. You can either nominate yourself or have others nominate you.
JM:We know who the current fire chief. Who is the Assistant Chief?3.
CO:Right now it is Jason Wilson who is also a past chief and a past officer of many years in different capacities.
JM:I am going to interview him: he is on my list. Who comes after the Assistant Chief?
CO:Captain who is Bill Sherwood.
CO:The next officer is First Lieutenant who is Michael White.
JM:I had him in school.
CO:I bet you did. After that is the Second Lieutenant who is Raymond S. flint.
JM:When do you have your meetings?
CO:Our meetings are every Monday night which is either a training session or a drill or monthly meeting.
JM:Is there anything else that I haven’t covered about the fire department that you would like to add?
JM:We will now go one to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. When did the VFW receive their charter?
CO:The VFW here in Lakeville Post #9243 also known as the Berkshire Post received their charter on the 21st of March, 1947.
JM:Is it a national or state organization?
CO:The VFW is a national organization.
JM:Do you have chapters or posts?
CO:We do have posts. The VFW is a national organization which is broken down into states. The states are broken down into districts. The district can have multiple posts in them. For example the post here in Lakeville is part of District #5 which has 5 posts within the state.
JM:You are on Brook Street, but I didn’t see any sign or the building, but I did see a flag.
CO:We replaced the siding recently and the sign has not gone back up. We used to have a giant sign actually on the road (TR 44 ED) as you turn onto Brook Street where the doctor’s office is on the right. There used to be a giant sign right there, but that has long gone.
JM:How many members do you have in your post?
CO:Currently we have 26 members in our post.4.
CO:All male, I am working on my first female. I am bound and determined to get her.
JM:Oh good. You represent all branches of the service?
CO:Yes, all branches of the service.
JM:Who is eligible to be in the VFW?
CO:Men and women that have served in a war-time theater or area of the world. The only silly exception that a lot of the veterans don’t realize is Korea. The United States Army has a duty station in Korea. Because they are technically still at war, if you are assigned Korea as a duty station person, which is typically a year, you are actually eligible to be a member of the VFW. From the late 1940s it is still open to this day.
JM:1947 I think.
JM:That brings me to your service. What branch of the service were you in?
CO:I was in the United States Army from 2002 to late 2004.
JM:Where did you get your training?
CO:I went to basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. My job training was also in Ft. Jackson.
JM:What was your job training?
CO:I was a 63 Sierra which is a heavy wheel vehicle mechanic and then I went on to also gain the skill identifier of hotel 8 which is a towing and recovery specialist for both track and wheeled vehicles.
JM:You served about 2 years?
CO:A little over two years. I had originally signed up for 4 years. When I was deployed to Iraq in 2004, I was injured in my kneecap. Unfortunately I was not able to fulfill my full four years. I received an honorable medical discharge which I received in December of 2004.
JM:Were you actually in a conflict zone?
CO:I was stationed in Bagdad in Iraq.
JM:So you qualified for the VFW!
JM:I suppose you peop0le have meetings?5.
CO:We do. We try to meet the second Wednesday of every month. That does not always happen.
JM:What is the purpose of the meeting?
CO:Basically to catch up on Veterans to-dos. Also the Veterans of Foreign Wars is really a support system for Veterans. We offer a lot of different things that can help with day-to-day life. The Poppy drive, when you see a veteran selling poppies or giving them out for a donation, all that money is put into a relief fund for veterans in that community such as a handicapped ramp, or a handicapped accessible bathroom, or wheelchairs, or anything that is out of the normal operating area of the VFW budget. Aside from that there is health care and disability compensation and all the things that people need.
JM:Recently you have merged with the Cornwall Post?
CO:Unfortunately the Cornwall Post fell behind on some things and our State Commander approached me and the Cornwall Commander and asked if we could join together because the Cornwall Post would lose their charter. We want to retain the veterans. Cornwall merged with Lakeville March, 2019.
JM:Do you have an election of officers?
CO:We do have elections of officers. It is usually in April.
JM:You are the Commander; the Senior Vice Commander is Allen Jones.
CO:It is now Tyler Riva. The Junior Vice Commander is Peter Sherwood, and our Quartermaster is Allen Jones.
JM:What does a Quartermaster do?
CO:The Quartermaster is one of the most important jobs in the VFW. He is in charge of membership, any and all money, deposits, bills, like a treasurer. He is more or less a secretary and a treasurer all rolled into one.
JM:I asked you before what you actually do and you said that you are on a committee that works on the Memorial Day parade.
CO:I am also on that committee, the Veteran Liaison Jennifer Farwell, which is above and beyond amazing.
JM:Isn’t she though!
CO:For not being a veteran, she is one of the most patriotic veteran focused ladies I have ever met in my entire life.
JM:She is super. I had here in school too.
CO:She is also President of the Lakeville Hose Company! Also on the Memorial Day committee is Christian Williams, (See Chris Williams interview) who is also the right hand man of the American Legion because I just took that over as well from Jason McGarry so I am now the Commander of the American Legion as well.
JM;Then you took over from Jason McGarry. (See Jason McGarry interview)
CO: I literally just took it over last week. And also on that committee is David Bayerdorfer (See David Bayerdorfer interview)
JM:You have a good committee.
CO:Together we put it all together.
JM:It went well this year, didn’t it?
CO:Absolutely. We were very thrilled that Bullet (Robert Sherwood who recently passed away.) could make it. My wife essentially grew up in that house. She was just best friends with the family since kindergarten. It was very touch and go whether Bullet was going to be there, but it was important. He made it. He was very tough.
JM:There was a wonderful tribute to him in the Lakeville Journal as there should have been. Now you and others put out the flags at the cemeteries.
CO:My son Skyler wakes me up and we all meet at the Town Hall at 7:00 AM usually on the Saturday a week or two before Memorial Day to put out the flags. John Whalen and his son Chris do it. They do an unbelievable job: they do the outside cemeteries throughout that week. (Marsh, Walton, Taconic, River Road, Dutcher’s Bridge, Lime Rock and Town Hill at Hotchkiss Ed.) On that Saturday morning a bunch of us meet and do the main cemetery, the catholic cemetery (St. Mary’s Ed.) in the center of Salisbury and the one on Undermountain Road (Reed Ed.) For the last few years I have been doing the Mt. Riga Cemetery. Curtis Rand usually does the Old Burying Ground.
JM:I think when I talked with Jen she said that you put out between 1200 and 1500 flags each year.
CO:That is pretty accurate.
JM:The budget for that is at the Town Hall?
JM: If I understood it correctly, you do a military salute on Memorial Day to all the cemeteries, except Town Hill at Hotchkiss.
CO:They don’t want it with the students on campus or graduation ceremonies which makes sense.
JM:If there is a veteran to be buried how do you learn about it?
CO:To be honest with you, unless the family requests it then we or one of us knows they were a veteran, but we typically don’t know.
JM:You do not know unless you are told or know from your own knowledge.
CO:There are a lot of veterans that belong to the town VFW and the town American Legion here where they grew up, but then move away. A lot of times we don’t know.
JM:We are working on the DD214’s for the Veteran’s Monument at the Town Hall and it is in the proofing stage. They wanted to make sure that everything was right and names were spelled correctly before it was engraved. If I wanted a full military service for a veteran in my family, I should contact the Town Hall or the funeral home?
CO:You could: we would do it for a request. Unfortunately the state budget is gone. There used to be a state honor guard that would do a funeral. Last I understood that that was taken out of the budget.
JM:Jerry Baldwin (See Gerard Baldwin interview) was in the honor guard for Bullet. What haven’t I asked you about the VFW, that I should have or have we covered it?
CO:I think we have covered it.
JM:Thank you so very much.
CO:You are very welcome. Thank you.