RILEY CO., Kan. (WIBW) - For 39 years, Ross Hauck has served as a volunteer firefighter in Riley County.
"It started out as service to the community,” Hauck said. “That's what it's always been for me."
When the City of Manhattan ceased providing fire protection to the township where he and his wife lived in 1980 —
"It was up to the neighbors to get together and say, 'We need to develop a fire department,’” he said.
The neighbors, including Hauck, made the decision to join Riley County Fire District No. 1, and he's been serving in Riley County ever since.
"It's the most beautiful place in the world to live,” Hauck said.
But his passion for fighting fires didn't start in 1980.
"I always said my firefighter career started when I was about six years old in the drought of the mid-fifties,” Hauck said. “We had an alfalfa field catch on fire next to our house. All of our neighbors showed up with burlap sacks and buckets, and my job was to fill those buckets full of water, and that was what saved our house basically."
In 2002, Hauck took his passion and turned it into a full-time profession -- accepting a role as the fire program coordinator of the Kansas Forest Service.
"I got to do that for 15 and a half years,” he said.
Nearly four decades of service have come with their highs and lows.
"I look at the sacrifices that a lot of us, including myself, have made over the years, getting up from birthday parties and Christmas dinners. I went and fought fire on one of my birthdays,” Hauck said. "I didn't do it for the plaque on the wall and the accolades one can accumulate. I did it because the community needed me. And I think looking back on 40 years, it's been a success."
Now, Hauck is looking at the next generation of firefighters.
"Probably my proudest moment is seeing young people come up through the ranks and be progressive, and be safe, go home after every training, and seeing them get involved in their communities,” Hauck said.
At 70-years-young, he's doing his part to keep his community safe.
“Someday I'll retire,” Hauck smiled. “But not yet."