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Just a volunteer?

Posted: July 15, 2012 - 12:05am
Volunteer firefighters work to control a flame. Volunteers take on the same risks and responsibilities, log training hours and save lives just like career firefighters.  Courtesy of Richard Etheridge
Courtesy of Richard Etheridge
Volunteer firefighters work to control a flame. Volunteers take on the same risks and responsibilities, log training hours and save lives just like career firefighters.

Seventy-two percent of our nation’s communities are protected by volunteer firefighters. Alaska has an even higher percentage. So, what exactly is a volunteer firefighter?

“Aren’t they just guys that show up to watch and help the real firefighters?” some might ask.

Absolutely not. This could not be further from the truth.

The biggest difference between a “career firefighter” and a “volunteer firefighter” is a paycheck. And from where they are responding. Volunteer firefighters are as professional as they come.

Volunteers in our community are held to the same training standards as a full-time firefighter. They wear the same uniform and protective gear, drive the same trucks and operate the same tools.

Volunteers have saved countless lives in our community and millions of dollars in property loss. They train to do this in the evenings, on weekends and holidays. They respond to incidents at all hours even if it’s in the middle of their regular day job, family events or in the wee hours of the morning.

Some volunteers have logged almost 500 hours of training each year and more than 100 emergency responses.

What do these volunteers look like? Volunteer firefighters come in all shapes, sizes, ages and colors. We have young people moving away from home for the first time, grandparents and everywhere in between. These volunteers work in your grocery stores, local, state, and federal government, private retail or tourism, they can be photographers, self-employed, U.S. Coast Guard members, Alaska Marine Highway employees, chaplains and pastors. They are our friends and neighbors, and they look just like you and me.

Volunteers fulfill many roles in the community. They fight fires, drive and pump fire engines, they drive ambulances, provide emergency medical care, perform technical water rescues, technical rope rescues, evacuate injured people from the trails and mountains, regularly volunteer for community and sporting events, direct traffic, cut people out of cars, attend specialized trainings across the nation, write reports, educate our children, fulfill administrative duties, perform maintenance on tools and fire stations, remove snow and, occasionally, find time to have a couple barbeques a year.

You have to ask yourself, why do they do it? For some it is the excitement of doing things they would never get to do anywhere else. For others it is for the structure and team work. The most common answer I get is that they like to help people and give back to our community. We are fortunate to have a group of dedicated people who are willing to take on the work that others can’t or won’t, and do it for just a thank you or a little recognition.

If you think you have the dedication to join the ranks of our volunteer firefighters, if you want to give back to your community and be rewarded in ways that can’t compare to anything else, contact the Juneau Fire Station at 586-5322 or come by in person. Our stations are open and we welcome you to come by and ask questions.

When you see a flashing blue light behind you on the road, you know its not “just a volunteer” it is a volunteer firefighter responding to someone’s worst day ever, to save a life, protect your neighbors property or to care for someone with a traumatic injury. This is what it is to be a volunteer.

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