The Washington Volunteer Fire Department is observing its 160th anniversary this week.

We join the rest of the community in offering our heartfelt congratulations and appreciation to this unique group of volunteers who have written the definition of public service in our community.

The bond our community has with its fire department is special and reaches deep into the town’s history.

According to fire department history, in May of 1852, the Washington Town Council, in the interest of fulfilling the primary responsibility of government — the health, safety and welfare of its citizens — ordered hooks and ladders to be made and to be presented to the captain of the fire department.

As Washington Fire Chief Bill Halmich explained, “Thus began one of the oldest, richest traditions in the history of our community — professional volunteer fire protection.”

It is a tradition unequaled in this town and perhaps the nation. There are plenty of volunteer fire departments in this country, but few, if any, can match the dedication and professionalism of ours.

For the past 160 years, volunteers in our community have unselfishly given their time and risked their lives protecting their fellow citizens as firefighters on a volunteer basis.

In Washington, when a fire or emergency alarm sounds, volunteers answer the call. Ordinary men and women with extraordinary dedication drop whatever they are doing and respond. They leave their jobs and families — often in the middle of the night — and, without hesitation, put their own lives on the line serving others.

We agree with Chief Halmich that their hard work and often heroic deeds have woven the culture of service into the fiber of our community.

In a community where volunteerism is the norm not the exception, this organization stands above the rest.

The fire department’s history is important to its members because as Halmich noted in a feature story this week, “the past is prologue.”

We salute the Washington Fire Department on a tradition of excellence.