- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 2, 2016

GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) - In the 1960s on a ranch in Weston, a man and his two sons began fighting fires.

More than 40 years later, those three now have 134 years of experience among them, acting as watchful protectors for Campbell County.

Walt Hauber and sons Richard and Robert Hauber have fought fires in Campbell and Crook counties for decades. Walt has 45 years of experience, while Richard and Robert have 47 and 42, respectively. They all were volunteers with the Campbell County Fire Department, and Richard spent 28 years as a career firefighter, reported the Gillette News Record (https://bit.ly/2f628DL).

Theirs is a firefighting dynasty, three men who have helped protect their neighbors with smiles on their faces and a desire in their hearts to keep Campbell County safe while being supported by a loving family.

Just something you did

Living on a ranch in Weston, Walt Hauber, now 88, noticed there was no organized way to fight fires. So, he and some other ranchers put their heads together and started a rural firefighting system.

“I don’t know any main reason why,” Walt explained about the reason he felt compelled to act. “It was just something I did.”

He gave the same reason for why he went to fight in the Korean War in 1952 and 1953.

“It was just something you did,” he said. “That’s kind of the way the people are in the West.”

Hauber said his parents taught him to help people without giving it a second thought.

“It’s just the way I was brought up. You helped people that couldn’t help themselves,” he said.

Hauber, who became a volunteer firefighter for the Campbell County Fire Department in 1967, passed that value to his sons, along with a love for fighting fires.

“He taught his boys everything, including this,” said Carolyn Hauber, Robert’s wife. “He’s the pillar of the whole thing. He’d drive, they’d run the hoses and stuff.”

As the years passed, the Hauber boys’ love for firefighting never wavered, which has kept them in it for more than 40 years.

“I think it’s in my blood. It’s rewarding to me, it’s really fulfilling to have accomplished putting out a fire,” said Robert Hauber, 59.

His older brother Richard, 61, said the excitement of the job comes in very short spurts.

“It’s 12 hours of boredom interrupted by 10 minutes of terror, the adrenaline rush. It’s exciting and rewarding to be able to go and help someone,” said Richard, who spent 28 years as a career firefighter from 1990 to 2008.

But Richard’s favorite part of the job has nothing to do with fire. Instead, he enjoys doing the little things that no one ever knows about, the acts of service that don’t make the front page.

It could be rescuing a dog that had just given birth from under a deck, taking a merry-go-round apart so a child could go to the hospital or even bringing an elderly woman’s garbage cans in from out of the rain.

“I enjoy being able to do the little things that help people,” he said.

“I just practice the Golden Rule: Treat people how you want to be treated,” Richard said. “Just be nice. Do your job safely and be nice. The world would be a better place if people were just being nice to everybody. I think we’re pretty fortunate in this part of the country that most people are all-around nice people who like to help.”

The Haubers have earned the respect of their fellow firefighters.

Brian Murphy, a firefighter who has been with the department for 22 years, said that when he started out, he heard stories “about these Haubers up north.”

Those stories soon became a reality for Murphy, who fought on fires with the brothers and got to know Walt as well.

“You knew things were well in hand when Robert or Richard or Walt were on the fire,” he said.

Murphy said the Haubers knew their terrain and that their work in the rural areas proved to be valuable to the county.

“They’re like minutemen,” Murphy said. “They’re able to get a fire under control, they’re able to catch that and alleviate the danger and keep the size down well before we get out there.”

Defending the home front

Firefighters get a lot of attention for the work they do, and deservedly so. They put their lives on the line whenever they go out to fight a fire.

But what doesn’t get nearly the same attention are their families sitting at home, waiting for their spouses, parents, children or siblings to come home safely.

“They’ve seen me go out the door quite a few times right in the meal, and they didn’t know where I was going or how long I’d be there or if I’d even make it back,” Robert said of his wife and daughter.

Carolyn Hauber, Robert’s wife, said she often worried about her husband when he responded to a call.

“When you fight fire in the country, anything can happen,” she said. “In town, you’ve got all the help. But when you’re out in the hills, it can get pretty bad.”

Arline Hauber, Walt’s wife of 64 years, said when someone came to their ranch to report a fire, Walt would “take off, maybe be gone three or four days. I didn’t know where he was or how he was or what he was doing, whether he was eating or whether he was hurt or anything.

“I worried a lot. There was no way of finding out because we didn’t have telephones, we didn’t have radio.”

Carolyn Hauber said behind each great firefighter is a supportive family.

“It takes these strong women in the back so you men can go and do your work and keep the home front going, keep the meals going, do whatever you can do to help,” she said.

Krista Bundy, Robert and Richard’s younger sister, said that whenever her brothers and father were out fighting fires, she worried for their safety. But she also felt a sense of pride.

“I was always proud of them because they were doing what they loved to do,” Bundy said.

Carolyn said the constant worry is just “part of the job. You just accept it because your husband loves it.”

She recalled a time in 2002 when Robert was out fighting a fire and she saw two planes carrying fire retardant fly over their house.

“That’s when I called the fire department and asked, ‘Where is my husband and what have you done with him?’ It was a very, very dangerous fire,” she said.

Keep calm and fight fires

Having spent more than 130 combined years fighting fires, the Haubers have seen a lot that would make the normal person’s stomach turn.

“A lot of things that dictate an emergency to the layperson, to us it’s no big deal,” Richard said. “I’ve seen just about everything in that amount of time. I just don’t let it bother me and go about my business.”

But sometimes, a firefighter sees something that will stick in his or her mind for a long time. Robert recalled one haunting memory where he had responded to a car accident where a couple had been killed.

“We had to extricate them out of the car, and I stuck around to help the wrecker get the car on the rollback, pull it up on there,” he said. “The car jarred a little bit, and a little baby fell out from under the dash. It was gone, too.”

Richard said whenever something like that happens, the only thing a firefighter can do is move on.

“It’s a job, and there are parts of it that are not fun,” he said. “But somebody’s got to do it.”

Another difficult part of firefighting is keeping the adrenaline rush under control. Robert said that when he was younger, he would often let the rush get the better of him.

Over time, he learned to calm down. His brother said it’s important to give off the impression of calmness, especially if there are other firefighters looking up to him.

“I’ve got to try and keep my composure and keep calm about it because panic is contagious,” Richard said. “You act like a duck on water. You’re just nice and calm and cool and collected on the surface, but you’re paddling like heck underneath.”

Richard and Robert got their fearlessness from Walt. Bundy had gone along with her father on a few fire calls when she was younger and recalled one time when she was on a truck with him. A tree branch knocked off one of the doors.

“My dad said, ‘Just leave it, we’ll come back and get it,’” she said. “So he’d drive right in the middle of a fire and just start spraying and we would sit in there with no door.”

Walking away

Walt Hauber was the first in his family to retire from firefighting. He did it four or five years ago after about 45 years in the business, but not because he was tired of it.

“I got to where I couldn’t drive anymore,” he said. “I was over 80 years old. I had to stop.”

Robert said that now after 42 years, he also decided it’s time to step down.

“It’s been a fun run,” he said. “I was just getting to the age that it’s harder to do, and I figured it’s time to close this chapter in my life and let the younger guys do it.”

He recognized, however, it will be difficult to walk away from something he’s done for the past four decades, and he said he’ll probably find a way to stay involved.

His wife said she doesn’t think he’ll be retired at all. His uniforms are still hanging in the closet and he still has his bag of fire gear.

“I think the minute he sees a fire or hears that anyone needs help, it’s nothing for him to stop along the side of the road and help an accident and direct traffic,” Carolyn said. “It’s ingrained in him too much. It’s in his veins.”

As for Richard, he’s now the last of the trio actively volunteering with the department and doesn’t think he’ll stop anytime soon.

“I’m still fighting fires. I figured I probably will as long as I physically can,” he said. “As long as I’m making a difference, I’ll keep doing it.”

When Richard does finally retire, it will mark the end of the last chapter of the Hauber family Campbell County firefighting saga, a story that has helped people all over the region. But until that page turns, the county will still have a Hauber protecting it, just as it did more than 40 years ago.


Information from: The Gillette (Wyo.) News Record, https://www.gillettenewsrecord.com

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