Thursday, April 21, 2016

Giving back to your community as a volunteer firefighter

Volunteering as a firefighter is a great way to give back to your community. It benefits you as a person and your community. I’m in the beginning of a new adventure, one that is full of rewarding challenges.

Before the fire service became a big part of my life, I knew little about it. I knew only a few firefighters before I joined my local company. I talked to one of my friends, a former career firefighter, about the fire service. He described it as a great service opportunity. He also had some warnings and offered to help me as needed.

“It’s not for everyone,” my friend said.

I also heard that on the first day of fire school at the Delaware County Emergency Services Training Center. The instructor, who is a career firefighter, repeated the words slowly, “it’s not for everyone.” We started with 42 students, including me. We finished with 26 firefighters.
Upon completion of fire school at the Delaware County Training Center in December 2015, Ginger Rae Dunbar became a nationally certified volunteer firefighter. 

Too much time missed can cause a student to be dismissed from the program. The “firefighter one” course, a physically demanding commitment, is the longest class a firefighter will take. I didn’t want to miss any of the four-hour classes or eight-hour skill days because it taught us the basics of firefighting, the foundation in our training. The experience and knowledge we accrued in the nearly 200-hour course class applies to each incident.

The fire school instructors asked each student how long they have participated in the fire service and their reason for signing up for school. Many of the students said that they wanted to give back to their community. That is one of the reasons why I joined.

One of the instructors told us that it was okay to admit if our chief made us go, which made us laugh. I wanted to attend school to learn. I wanted to achieve my certification as a volunteer firefighter because to me, it reflected what I learned in the classroom and that I learned how to perform the skills on scene.

Because the fire service was so new to me, I worked with the senior members to become familiar with the equipment. Drill nights help us to learn, practice and refresh our skills and knowledge. I enjoy practicing those skills with my fellow firefighters who encourage us to build that muscle memory so that the skills become second nature. During fire school I practiced at my station with my fellow firefighters to reinforce those skills, as recommended by my fire school instructors.

Many of the firefighters from my company asked about our progress in school and offered to help review the material, verbally and physically. When asked, they helped us review skills and practiced how to do certain tasks, such as opening a hydrant to establish a water supply and deploying hose lines.

People can volunteer in other capacities, such as fire police who direct traffic during incidents. Other opportunities include helping with fundraising efforts for the fire department to continue providing fire protection and by participating in programs such as fire safety.

Volunteering as a firefighter involves a time commitment. I didn’t give it much thought before that volunteer and career firefighters lose time to sleep by responding to calls overnight. Some nights I would say goodnight to my family and my pager alerted. Instead of saying goodnight and going to bed as planned, I said goodbye and responded to the station.

Volunteers sacrifice a lot of their time to respond to calls, train, fundraise, attend work sessions to clean the station and to attend classes. My fire company, like many, has one drill night and two work sessions a week.

Sometimes we use a work session as a drill to review the tools on the apparatus by getting a feel for how to operate the tools. During a work session last week we reviewed how to stabilize vehicles using wood cribbing because we are participating in a vehicle rescue course.

Just like any activity, putting in that extra time and effort will make you better. It’s worth it.

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