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Wed Dec 18, 2013, 03:12 PM

Small Town Volunteer Fire Departments Rock!

I grew up in a small citrus growing town in Southern California, with a population of about 6000. Throughout my childhood, many important occasions were interrupted by the sound of the town's big fire siren, which could be heard all over town. When it would sound, my father would jump up, run to a car and head for the fire station, along with other men in the community. During the workday, they'd also leave their jobs to report to fires. After I left town, my brother and brother-in law joined the fire department, too, and holiday meals often saw all three of them jump up and leave.

It was a completely volunteer fire department at the time. Nobody got paid. It was a service job that had high standards of qualification and way more people wanting to serve on it than open positions. During the 1970s, my father became the Fire Chief. Still no pay, but lots more responsibility. He served as Chief for over 12 years. Later, my brother-in-law replaced him as Chief, and my brother served as Assistant Chief, as well. It was an excellent fire department, self-trained and very, very competent, and the town had excellent insurance ratings.

These days, it's still a volunteer department, in part, but also has a full-time paid chief and some paid firefighters and paramedics, but volunteers still respond to fire calls and make up the bulk of the department. Today, they are summoned by a radio, rather than the big siren on the firehouse, but they're still fighting fires as volunteers, taking the necessary risks for no other reason than pride in their community. I moved away after graduating from High School, but would have been a firefighter, too, had I stayed there. It runs in the family.

I recently spent a few days in my old hometown, and just returned home yesterday. While I was there, there was a banquet to celebrate the 100th anniversary of that fire department, which was founded in 1914. Centennial badges were issued to all firefighters and to retired Chiefs and Assistant Chiefs. I attended, and got to watch my father be honored by today's firefighters as one of those who led the department in earlier times. He's now the oldest living Fire Chief, and got his own Centennial badge presented to him at the banquet, along with several speakers sharing stories about his time as Chief. He's 89, now, and pretty frail, but it was a pleasure to be there for that banquet.

Volunteer fire departments in small towns and cities all across the country represent, I think, the very best of community spirit. The people who serve on them are true heroes, putting their lives in danger, not for money, but for sheer love of community. I honor their service to their communities and want to share a photo of my father at the banquet, wearing his Centennial Chief's badge. In doing that, I also want to honor every volunteer firefighter in every community served by a volunteer fire department. What a wonderful resource such departments are!

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Response to MineralMan (Original post)

Wed Dec 18, 2013, 03:14 PM

1. My grandfather was a volunteer, and I live in a town that has an outstanding VFD.

There's a waiting list to get on, and it's basically impossible to do so. They do an excellent job.

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Response to Brickbat (Reply #1)

Wed Dec 18, 2013, 03:20 PM

2. Cool. You're right. There are always more volunteers

than openings. That's heartening, I think. All those people wanting to be of service to their community. It's a wonderful thing, and small towns are full of people like that. They deserve our thanks!

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Response to MineralMan (Reply #2)

Wed Dec 18, 2013, 03:31 PM

3. Actually, many places are having difficulties filling the volunteer positions. In some places it's

described as a public safety crisis. So it's heartening when people step up.

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Response to Brickbat (Reply #3)

Wed Dec 18, 2013, 03:33 PM

4. Interesting. I wonder if the leadership of the department

or the local government has anything to do with the willingness of volunteers. I don't know, but that could be the case. I suspect that it is mostly small towns that have volunteer departments and the larger communities may have more trouble attracting volunteers. I just don't know the answer to that.

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Response to MineralMan (Reply #4)

Wed Dec 18, 2013, 03:50 PM

5. From what I have read, it is often smaller towns that have lost local businesses who have trouble

keeping a VFD in place. People work in the next town over, or the county seat 30 miles away, and are ineligible for VFD service, or simply don't have time. Also, increased training requirements have kept some potential recruits away.

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Response to Brickbat (Reply #5)

Wed Dec 18, 2013, 03:55 PM

6. I suppose that's true. If so, it's too bad for those communities.

In small towns, a VFD is a real asset, since it provides far more fire protection than the town could possibly afford otherwise. Thanks for your comments.

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