by LA Guzda and John Kerkowski
Memorial Day kicks off summer fun! Cookouts, campfires, fireworks – time for play with family and friends. It’s also a time when we see firefighters on the road, hats off or a bucket for donations.
Pennsylvania is home to 12% of the nation’s 20,000 all-volunteer fire companies, which is more than any other state. Pennsylvania has a long history of volunteer fire service, reportedly being the home of the nation’s first volunteer fire company started in Philadelphia around 1736. As you pass by the people collecting, do you look away? Do you throw some loose change into the bucket? Maybe a dollar?
Fire-fighting equipment is expensive as is maintenance for the vehicles. Volunteers respond to fire, emergency and rescue calls, but have you ever thought about what it takes when that call comes in?
Imagine for a moment that you’re a volunteer. Its winter, snow is falling, ice is on the ground and the temperature is well below freezing. It’s 3:00 AM and you’re sound asleep, and you are suddenly awakened by a fire call. You get dressed as quickly as you can and race down to the Fire Station. Some of your fellow firefighters are already there, ready to roll. You grab your gear, jump on the truck and head to the scene. You arrive minutes later to find that the home is ablaze, it’s a working fire. Fortunately, the occupants were able to get out in time, but extinguishing the flames is tough work, made even more difficult by the weather. By the time the blaze is brought under control, almost everyone’s turn out gear, as well as just about everything else in the area, is covered with ice. You’re cold, you’re wet and you’re tired, but you’re still not done. The fire is out, and the adrenalin rush may be over, but extinguishing the fire is only part of the job. Some may have slipped and fell, probably more than once, while others are thinking about the warm bed they left hours ago. If you were hurt, you’ll get first aid, but getting back to that warm bed will still be hours away. The equipment needs to be put back and the crew has to return to the fire house. Once there, everything needs to be cleaned and properly stowed it to make sure it’s ready for the next call. Everyone hopes it won’t come too soon, but if it does, they’re prepared; they have to be, because your safety depends on it.
This is not an unusual scenario for our volunteers, but let’s take it one step further and instead of winter, it’s summer. Winter is bad, but summer can be worse, especially when it’s hot and humid. Turn out gear helps protect you, but it’s heavy. Self-contained breathing apparatus helps you survive in a smoke-filled building but puts a strain on your body. The heat and humidity on a sultry day causes you to perspire so much that sweat can puddle in your boots. Now, instead of frost bite, you contend with dehydration and heat stroke, all the while remembering that your first mission is to save lives, put out the fire and still get back home safely to your family later.
No matter the season, the plain truth is that being a fire fighter is hard work. You split your time between family, work and the department, and not always in that order.
Think about what it means to be a volunteer fire-fighter when you get your appeal letter in the mail. And when you pass them on the road, please give and give as generously as you can. Put some money in your car now so you’ll be ready.
Hats Off to these angles among us! We salute you!