Letter: ‘Big chief’ from Hope made big impact

From: Roger Johnson

Retired Indiana state fire marshal; board member, Indiana Firefighters Association


It was the summer of 1962, and I was riding my bike around the Hope town square. All of a sudden, the town fire whistle began blowing. That’s how volunteer firemen were notified of a fire in those days. I did not know Merrill Clouse at that moment, but as I watched this event unfold a decision was made in my young mind that we were going to become friends.

Mr. Clouse owned and operated the market located on the north side of the town square. He was removing his white apron while running to the fire house, followed by another store employee who also was a volunteer fireman. (Fireman was the term back then; today firefighter is the correct description.)

As the excitement continued to unfold, I moved closer to the fire hall. I listened to Mr. Clouse, who had picked up a wall-mounted telephone and in multitask fashion was writing on a large blackboard as he shouted the address of the fire to the members already getting their fire helmets, boots and red rubber fire coats on. That’s when I heard Stanley Huffer, who ran the bank located next to the fire station, call Mr. Clouse “chief.”

Mr. Huffer would run out of the fire station into the street and wave a red flag stopping traffic in order to permit the fire engine to move swiftly in the direction of the fire alarm, once he heard Chief Clouse shout out the direction of the fire call. It was like a show of sorts, with such precision my fascination with becoming a firefighter hit another plateau.

Chief Clouse was a dedicated firefighter and leader of an outstanding fire department. I always watched for him at fires and how well he commanded members as they fought fires safely and effectively.

Many good things will be said of Merrill Clouse, but my memory will always be of his days serving the Hope community as Hope Volunteer Fire chief and his influence on my life.

To his family and many friends, I express my condolences at his passing. May the Big Chief welcome him into heaven.