Muster grand marshal is teacher, firefighter

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By MIKE JENSEN

Jim Helms had both a younger brother and an older half-brother in the fire service.

"I was pushed from both ends," said Helms with a laugh as he recalled the beginning of his 40-year firefighting career.

After ascending the ranks of the Alameda Fire Department and becoming the volunteer chief of Columbia Fire District, Helms has now been named this year's Columbia Fireman's Muster Grand Marshal.

"I'll put my uniform on for the parade and then my work clothes for the muster all in the same day," said Helms, 68, with a grin.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the fire departments in Columbia and Sonora, and the 43rd annual Columbia Fireman's Muster. The weekend-long event celebrates firefighting history in the old mining community with a parade, barbecue, and such events as a water bucket brigade and water hand pumper competition.

The popular water brigade competition involves moving 50 gallons of water 20 feet using fire buckets. The five-member brigade teams are made of men and women, and any business or adult organization is welcome to compete.

This year's muster marshal was born in Oakland in 1933. After graduating high school in 1952, Helms went on to join the U.S. Navy, where he served as an instructor, teaching survival skills to pilots who might be shot down during the Korean War.

After he was released from the military, he worked in various sales. Then, in 1963, he tested with Alameda Fire Department.

"We had fires on almost a daily basis," he said. Helms worked his way from a trainee to the positions of engineer and eventually captain.

In 1986, his son Philip was attending firefighting classes at Columbia College.

"We would come up and visit and we found found a home we'd really like to buy," said Helms. He and his wife, Darlene, moved to Columbia that same year.

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The Union Democrat
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