Written by: Firefighter Brendan Collins
~ Aren’t you mostly getting cats out of trees?”
When I first mentioned to people that I was becoming a volunteer firefighter with the North Madison Volunteer Fire Company these were the types of questions I heard frequently. Truthfully, they’re questions I had asked myself at one point. (Side note, to date I have not rescued a single cat.)
Contrary to the levity such questions suggest, becoming a volunteer firefighter is in fact serious business. At times, life and death serious.
Thankfully “working” fires are a small percentage of our calls for service. We also respond to car accidents, carbon monoxide alarms, and theoretically cats stuck in trees.
In addition, a good deal of time is spent connecting with the community and sharing comradery with fellow volunteers. All of these factors contributed to my desire to join and serve our community in this way.
As a prospective volunteer balancing a career, family and other commitments it was initially a challenge. My father has been a volunteer firefighter for more than 50 years so I knew about the late night alarms, and frequent need to leave work or the dinner table when a call went out. What I found out is there is much more to this role I’ve chosen than responding to emergencies.
The first step in becoming a firefighter is to take the state Fire 1 course. This is an introduction to firefighting as well as interior firefighter certification, Hazardous Materials Awareness and Operations.
Passing this course requires a significant time commitment but one that is justified when you consider the risk involved. What was surprising to me is firefighting isn’t as simple as putting water on the fire.
During Fire1 volunteers learn everything from carrying and throwing a ladder, to fire attack and search and rescue. The instructors introduce you to countless acronyms and terms such as LDH (Large Diameter Hose), IDLH (Immediate Danger to Life and Health), the “Irons” (Halligan tool and Axe) and positive pressure ventilation (blowing fresh air into a structure to remove toxic gasses and smoke.)
Then there’s the equipment, trucks, tools and protocols. Learning about all these seemed quite daunting at the outset, but I have come to learn that the fire department is full of people who want to help. When I’ve had questions about how things work or what needs to be done there is someone willing to lend a hand.
Being a volunteer firefighter isn’t all lights and sirens, it is ultimately about people. I have met some inspiring members that truly give more than they will ever receive. From doctors, lawyers, sales people, landscapers, engineers, and even professional firefighters they all come together to help serve the community. This extends beyond the firehouse doors as well. I’ve personally witnessed our “neighbors helping neighbors” motto materialize countless times in my brief tenure so far.
In short, becoming a North Madison firefighter has enriched my life in more ways than I can express here. It has fulfilled a need for teamwork and comradery previously filled by organized sports and has given me the opportunity to become an active member of my new community,
When the call comes across the pager that there is someone in need of help, our volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel are part of a team that willingly leaves the comfort of their homes to help others.
These are people I want to know.