The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By Angela Austin
Volunteer Advocate 

In It for the Long Run:

Supporting Volunteer Firefighters

 

September 6, 2017



What would we do without the fire department? Do we know they are all volunteers? Sure, we’ve heard the words “Volunteer Fire Department” over and over, but do we stop to think about all that entails?

I have a unique perspective as my husband and his son both serve on both Long Run Fire Department and the City Fire Department. I watch as this team of highly skilled dedicated VOLUNTEERS, work together in highly dangerous situations, efficiently and selflessly. They put themselves in places you and I would never go…all with the sole purpose of saving what fire would otherwise destroy. They go into burning buildings, with the fear of a fiery roof falling down on top of them, or the floor beneath them caving in. They are in situations where explosions could occur. Sometimes the structure can’t be saved, but they can save the structures surrounding it. This is not just about pouring some water on the flames. The skills necessary to effectively fight these fires come from many hours of training, dedication to responding to every fire, and a resolve to never give up.

Do you know:

If there is a structure fire and insurance is involved, a member of the fire department MUST stay with the building after the fire has been put out until the insurance personnel get there. Which could be the next day or the next week. For the fire department, that means someone, or several someones, have to give up their nights, their time, their sleep, which affects their jobs. At times, these volunteers are actually using up their vacation/leave time just to serve where they’re needed.

You see that there are fundraisers every year, to raise money to buy equipment to help these firefighters do their job safely and effectively. To get better gear. To replace boots that have holes in them, or uniforms that are old and the fire protection is worn out. You don’t see the City, County, or State holding fundraisers to raise money to purchase equipment or supplies to buy school buses, make our roads better, plow our snow, repair water breaks, or the many other things that go wrong on any given day.

Their radios are at least 15-year-old hand-me-downs that HAVE A LOT OF ISSUES. They are police hand me downs, and not built for the kind of conditions (water, mostly) that firemen are constantly in. Transmissions between fire personnel cut out at key times, being one of the biggest issues. Communication is key in any part of life, but it is CRITICAL during an emergency. During one recent structure fire, the Incident Commander resorted to pulling the firefighters back from the fire and holding an impromptu meeting in the street, JUST so they could communicate and plan to attack the fire successfully. During the same fire, Command Staff could not reach the team that was inside to let them know that a large amount of water was being sprayed onto the roof. That amount of water could cause the roof to collapse, with them in it. They had to take another volunteer to run between the Command Staff and the team inside. Communication is critical, even life saving.

When I say volunteer, I mean that they get NOTHING. Many years ago, the City Fire Department Volunteers did receive a little bonus at the end of the year, the amount dependent on how many fires they responded to and how many training hours they’d logged. That came to an end. One year, they did give everyone embroidered coats as a token of appreciation. Now, there is just no money for anything. These people risk their lives, they sacrifice their time, they do it all. The fire department is called for all sorts of incidents, not just fires. They are called for train derailments where hazardous materials are or could be leaking. They are called to meth lab busts. They are called to horrific wrecks, to help extricate occupants of vehicles. They have these people’s lives in their hands…sometimes during their final moments. They are called for gas leaks. They are skilled in evacuation procedures. Just recently there was two incidents in one night where gas lines had been punctured and gas was hissing out. The fire department personnel are the ones going in to get people out of a place where the slightest ignition source could cause an explosion. An explosion. Just think about that.

It costs the average fire fighter about $2,000 per year to be part of the department. That cost is split between lost wages due to fighting the fires or attending trainings to give them valuable knowledge, and expenses they incur while doing so. So not only do they volunteer their time to save us, but it actually costs them to do it. Volunteer firefighters are the only group I can think of who willingly put themselves at great personal risk and don’t get paid for it.

Several years ago, someone made the statement that their cat was stuck in a tree, and they were just going to call the fire department to get it down, so they can at least earn the money they’re being paid. I wonder how many people think this way? They are not paid for their life and property saving dedication, and they lost the only monetary appreciation they ever received. Recently, when talking about the fire department’s fantastic response time, someone else made the comment, “Well, that’s what they're paid to do.”

I just think that we as a community just need to be more informed, that’s all. That is my goal in writing this. Don’t get me wrong, this extraordinary group of people do what they do because they’re called to it. They do not complain, they just do what most of us can’t. They love it, they love what they do, they love helping our community. They dedicate themselves to excellence because that’s who they are.

They have decided that it's worth their time away from their families, their jobs, and their free time to be able to help our community out at the drop of a hat. They train, they have meetings, and go on calls at any hour of the day. Knowing the job is a dangerous one, they carefully calculate the risks on each call. Risking a lot to save a lot. They rely on us as a community to provide them with the right tools to do the job, the ones that keep them safe and the community safe.

The recent Cold Smoke Fire is a great example of who we have watching our backs. Our guys did NOT give up. They worked tirelessly to prevent the fire from getting out of control, never going to bed, and proving to the paid agencies that they were worth their weight in gold. What would we do without them?

I feel we, as a community, could maybe step up and give back. They have a huge need for updated radios. The radios that are built for firefighters are not cheap, but they are invaluable. Absolutely invaluable. We can do this for them, can’t we? Please consider donating to this fund. Fire season is far from over, and disaster can strike your or your neighbors in the blink of an eye. Like I said, the radios are not cheap, but would help them do their jobs when precious seconds count.

There is an account set up at Valley Bank, or you can mail a check to me at Angela Austin, 94 Schott Lane, Glasgow MT 59230, made out to the Valley County Fire Department Fund. Thank you for your time and support of this invaluable service!

 

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