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She's an original

Dorothy Richardson flips through her sixth scrapbook of clippings documenting the Woodbury Fire Department's 50-year history. Staff photo by Riham Feshir

Firefighters call her the mother of the Woodbury Fire Department.

This year, the fire department is celebrating 50 years and there is one person who's been involved in all of its lifetime.

Dorothy Richardson was an auxiliary member married to one of the founding fathers of the department, Calvin Richardson, before Woodbury was even a city.

She was a two-time vice president and one of the firefighter wives who organized fundraisers, cooked meals and even attended fire calls.

"It was a dedication that became a fun type of volunteer work," Richardson said.

Richardson witnessed the signing of the incorporation that made the fire department official and recognized by the state.

"Which I don't even remember until I saw the incorporation papers many years later," she said with a laugh.

But the 80-year-old remembers many things she did as a part of the auxiliary, and if she doesn't, she's got six scrapbooks she crafted over the years that refresh her memory.

As a registered nurse in the 1960s and 70s, Richardson was involved in the first-ever emergency medical technician (EMT) courses that firefighters were required to take to become certified.

As a wife of a dedicated fireman for more than 20 years, she and other auxiliary members fixed up meals and responded to fire calls with their husbands.

"Most of the fires were huge fires, they were out six to 12 hours," she said, adding that some women would bring their small children along and watch others' kids while the rest fed the men.

One of the most memorable experiences she had was when a Hudson Road call was in need of an ambulance that was parked at the station a few miles away.

The men were at the scene fighting a fire and nobody was available to bring the ambulance.

"I said, 'There are no men to bring it,' and they said 'bring it out, you know how to drive a car,'" Richardson said.

Departmental roots

The Woodbury Fire Department started out as a volunteer-only force that met at members' homes and stored equipment in their garages before they built a fire hall.

Richardson recalled communication between firemen: "My wife is home, she'll open the garage if there is a fire."

"We had no other system to let people know there was a fire."

Woodbury Township allocated a budget of $6,000 per year for the fire department in the 1960s, so when auxiliary members raised $600, it was considered a significant contribution.

"This was money we raised in bake sales and crafts," Richardson said, in addition to the $1 membership fees auxiliary women threw in the jar.

Since the men were in training and working full-time jobs, the auxiliary gave their wives a chance to join in the fun and learn from being part of the team.

Richardson has two sons who served on the Woodbury Fire Department for more than 20 years and one son who's still serving.

"I feel that my family benefited a great deal from being on the fire department," she said. "I had no problems with my boys as teenagers."

Though the auxiliary no longer exists, Richardson is still volunteering with the department and is on the 50th anniversary committee.

When she walks into the fire hall, she not only gets hugs and smiles from all firefighters, she envisions a wall of honors that will be finished when construction is complete on the building.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.