A volunteer fire department served St. Thomas until August 2000. When that department was annexed by the Cole County Fire Protection District, members of the Luebbering family continued their service with the fire district.
Today, five members of the extended family — Josh, Myron, Doug, David and Nathan — are serving with Cole County.
"We never had a lot of calls in St. Thomas," said David Luebbering, who is a captain for the fire department. "We'd average five to 10 calls a year. We were very fortunate that people in our area just took care of things themselves."
Just as when they served in St. Thomas, the Luebberings said, vehicle accidents are the majority of service calls they respond to now.
"Route B is an area that's been booming with traffic," David said. "It has really increased over the last 30 years, especially tractor-trailer traffic. Growing up, you could ride bicycles on Route B and no one thought about it."
They have been getting more calls for non-injury accidents, he added, while there are fewer structure fires and natural cover fires they are called out to.
"We were fortunate that we never really had many structure fires," David said. "People had a lot of common sense in what they were doing. There were times, though, when they needed help."
"What probably got a lot of younger volunteers to come on in 1993 was a structure fire in St. Thomas," Doug Luebbering said. "At the time, all the firefighters were older, our parents' age, and it showed the need for younger people to start."
The Luebberings said there is a need now for younger people to become a part of the fire service, as many currently serving are 40 or older.
"In rural areas, the young kids get out of school, go to college and, if they do come back, trying to get them to volunteer is tougher than what it used to be," Josh said.
"It's a big-time commitment, and once you have a family a lot of people aren't willing to go through," Doug said.
When asked why they keep doing it, Doug laughed: "Because we can't find any young ones to come on board right now."
The Luebberings said the training is needed because many of the situations they are called out to are a lot more complicated than in the past.
"When I was growing up, I remember my dad going to an accident where a vehicle went into the river," David said. "At that time, the volunteers didn't have any formal training; they were just there to help. It has evolved tremendously since 1993 because we saw there was the need for additional training, and that has been a key to the development of this department."
Doug added: "The equipment we use takes more training because there's more technology in there than when we started."
David has kept a remembrance given from schoolchildren in St. Thomas to the firefighters thanking them for their service.
Part of it reads: "What if you needed help and no one came? No one to help you in your time of need. Now that would be a shame. But we won't let this happen, and you can rest your fears. So when you go to bed tonight, thank God for volunteers."
"Whenever you get calls, there is some satisfaction and you feel good about helping other people," Myron Luebbering said.
"It's a small community, and we all know who each other is," Josh Luebbering said. "If there is a house fire or an accident, many times we know who it is that's involved. There's times I didn't go to a call because I knew it was family and probably best you didn't go."
The Luebberings said they are lucky because the Cole County district has modern equipment and facilities that other departments don't have.
"Before we merged into Cole County, we were such a small department that we used a lot of our own money to run the little department we had," David said. "We had fundraisers to buy gear."
Aside from continuing to recruit new members, the Luebberings feel the future is bright for the Cole County Fire Protection District.
"You'll run into spells when you get short of bodies, and then all of sudden there is an interest," David said. "For the younger people, it's about excitement and they like to work together. If their friends are doing it, then they want to be a part of it. That will happen again."