Volunteer Firefighters: Why We Do What We Do

By Ron Roy

Writing for the NVFC

As I reflect back on my volunteer fire service career, I am astonished at the things I have done, the people I have met, the training I have received and all of the things I have been able to give back. We train to be efficient in the service we provide to our communities and to protect ourselves so that we can safely protect our citizens in our communities. We are an all-hazards response unit and an all-service provider to our neighbors and residents within our response area. 


When I travel around the U.S. as a firefighter, I have the ability and pleasure to extend that service wherever I am. I always say please and thank you or open the door for anyone who is entering or leaving a building. Each of us has the opportunity to choose our attitude every day. I always choose to start each day with a positive attitude. I always evaluate my situation as being in or out of my control. I can’t change the weather when it is raining or snowing, but I can choose to help someone who can use an extra hand.

Walking through Home Depot recently, a fellow was trying to load some 4×8-foot sheets of plywood onto a cart by himself. He was struggling in loading them and was walking end to end to move them onto his cart. I stopped and said, “Let me help you with that.” The gentleman was very appreciative and in no time we had finished loading his cart. I could have walked on by, but I elected to make his day easier by just giving a little bit of my time to assist. 


Across the nation, our communities count on the volunteer fire service to be there for them on their worst day. We, the volunteer fire service, are proud to be there for our citizens in trying to respond to their needs to provide a better outcome. It is not just a fire response; it is an EMS call because a loved one is in distress, or a child is lost, or even a flooded basement. The fire service is there to help, however we can. 


So why do we do what we do? It is about our communities and the hometowns in which we have elected to live and raise our families. We should care about all of those around us and recognize their needs. When they are having health issues, mow their lawn, shovel their snow, or take out their trash. We are the lifeblood that makes it a community. We all need to step up and provide some of our time and talents to help make our community a better place. Sometime, somewhere, you or a loved one will need the services provided by community members. 


Thanksgiving Day, 2018, the University of Washington band was involved in a bus crash some 150 miles away while en route to the Apple Cup football game in Pullman, Washington. The local fire department, mostly volunteers, responded and treated the injured and then coordinated shelter from the frigid temperatures in the local school. The community members jumped into action to provide food and comfort for all involved. They expected nothing in return because it was the right thing to do. There was no one else who was able to provide this service. That is what a community is – residents who come together because they care about the people who cross their paths. Did they do it because it was their job? No, they did it because they cared. Their community is the portrait of who they are. They have pride in the things they do and how others view them. That pride is a valuable commodity on which the community can’t put a price. It’s about personal reward from those who deeply care.


Volunteers are the salt of the earth. The effects from the benefits the men and women of the fire service give to their communities bear many similarities to salt. Salt is one of five universally accepted basic tastes that stimulate and are perceived by our taste buds: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Salt provides flavor, preserves foods, and adds to the character of baked goods. Historically, salt was a very precious commodity that was available for trade. Some items for which it was traded included gold, ivory, skins, kola nuts, pepper, and sugar. Those items were recognized as being so valuable they were always carried and available for trade. 


The volunteer fire service men and women are just as valuable. Those same volunteer firefighters, in molding the communities in which they serve, provide the look and feel for their community. When these volunteers help install the Christmas lights for the town and deliver Santa for the opening ceremonies of the Christmas celebrations, those services provide the flavor for which the town is known. When members of the volunteer fire department place all the flags at the cemetery and down Main Street to honor our veterans and then drive the best apparatus they have in the Veterans Day parade, they provide the taste of that community to its residents. When these dedicated men and women provide emergency service to their neighbors and relatives within their communities, day or night, holidays or not, and still work within that community to support their family, that is the character that identifies the uniqueness of the communities we call home.


As one of those volunteers, I recognize the value each of us provide to our communities, but it is difficult for volunteer firefighters to promote themselves for what they do. For sure, the public does not see everything that the volunteer firefighters do for our communities. We work to provide for our communities with the best we have to offer. The members of our communities do not see everything we do because so much of it happens behind the scenes. We go to drill to improve and maintain our skills, check that the trucks are in top working order, maintain the stations, plan our personal activities around the calendar for community events, train for the next emergency, plan the budget, apply for grants, and maintain and work toward improving the community’s insurance ratings. We are even there so the Cub Scout troop can come to the station and try on our gear to get a feel for what we do. 


When you are a volunteer firefighter, you are the cloth of the community in which you live. I love what I do for my community. I have served the residents where I live since 1973 as a volunteer firefighter. Even if I could, I would have it no other way.


Ron Roy is the division chief for Douglas County Fire District #2 in East Wenatchee, Washington, a board member of the Washington State Fire Fighters’ Association, Washington.

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