March 18, 2002 11:00 pm

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

ISLAND CITY For the most part, Ray Hamann was surprised Saturday night.

The La Grande Rural Fire Department members filled their fire hall with guests, seafood and celebrations calling it their annual recognition crab feed, but in truth dedicating the night to Fire Chief Ray Hamann.

As in recent years, the evening was a time to get together and recognize those who had gone beyond basic service during the year past and recognize the accomplishments of the all-volunteer group.

But then, with help from Hamanns family members and friends, the evening turned to a celebration of one mans devotion to a fire department. Hamann has been a volunteer with the department for 40 years.

Lowell Beeman started off the recognition, explaining that fire protection was one of the early points of business for the newly formed Island City government, since officials set a resolution for fire protection at their second meeting, in February 1904. Just months later, they authorized $29 to purchase four ladders.

In 1908, the fledgling department bought 10 fire buckets.

At least six of those buckets are still around, and with their donation by Stan Weishaar, one was given Saturday night to Hamann.

The existing La Grande Rural Fire Department was established in 1949, several years after Island City fire protection was contracted to the La Grande Fire Department.

Then in April 1962, Beeman got to the point: A 19-year-old joined the fire department.

Hamann volunteered for service, following the example set by his father. A few years later, Hamann married Patty, and as was noted Saturday, his wife and family had to learn to share him with the department.

In 1989, Hamann was appointed the departments chief.

The chief is a very cool, calm and collected fellow, Beeman noted, referring to a Richter scale of emotions.

A broken foot at a fire didnt upset the chief, Beeman recalled, and the collision of two trucks at a fire still didnt set the chief off much.

Other training, firefighters remembered, was more stressful maybe up to 10 on the Richter scale.

With a round of memories shared, the guests at the celebration learned that Hamann drills his motto into the department activities: We train as a team, we work as a team, we play as a team and I am proud of each of you.

Don Sands, Hamanns employer for many years, noted that Ray has people talents far above the rest of us.

Ray has devoted his life to the fire department, Island City Mayor Dale DeLong said. To further honor Hamann, DeLong proclaimed April as Chief Ray Hamann Month.

A wag was quick to note that a stand could be set up outside the fire hall with a chair for Hamann to sit on, so he could wave at everyone going by during April.

After a round of gifts, from a statue of a firefighter to the rusted original fire bucket and a throw picturing a firefighter, Hamann had his turn.

I want to thank all of you, he said, pausing to get his emotions gathered and turning to his wife. Shes always stood by me. Talk about the stress level.

Hamann quickly turned the praise back to his department. Noting how the all-volunteer group works together. He ended his few comments with, I appreciate every one of you. We pitch in and get it done. Thank you.

The evening ended with a slide presentation by firefighter Jim Voelz, including a humorous look at some of the departments less-glorious moments (the fire truck getting stuck) and tougher days (grass fires and house fires).

Among the evenings awards was the presentation to Randy Chandler of the Frank Chandler Memorial Award. Hamann noted that Randy Chandler is a really outstanding person who deserves recognition for helping make sure the La Grande Rural Fire Department is one of the states limited number of fully accredited departments.

Several members of the department were also honored for their efforts at public fire prevention and public education functions throughout the year.

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