Risking their lives for unpaid jobs

Published 12:17 pm Saturday, January 8, 2011

When I started talking with volunteer firefighters for my story, “Fighting fire with volunteers,” I was amazed at their dedication. They risk their lives doing a job for which they don’t get paid — a job that, for most of them, is secondary only to the jobs for which they actually get paid.

I appreciated that so many volunteers from Saginaw, Vandiver and Montevallo took the time to talk to me about why they volunteer.

So many of the things they said stuck in my mind long after the interviews were over.

Sharon Sweezey with the Vandiver Fire Department painted a haunting picture with her words when she described the pitfalls of serving in a small town.

“Nine times out of 10, when you get a call here, it’s somebody you know or you know their family,” Sweezey said. “I listen to the radio and the first thing I think when I hear the ambulance is, ‘Is that my family member?’”

Those conversations really brought the point home to me. At any time, volunteer firefighters could get called out to the homes of their siblings, parents, best friends — or, even worse, their own homes.

It’s hard enough to battle fire and death when you have no relationship with the people you’re trying to save.

I can only imagine how much harder it must be when you recognize the faces of the victims as you’re working.

Everyone I met shared one distinctive trait — pride.

They take so much pride in what they do and in knowing they are the safeguards against disaster.

Even if volunteers get a call on Christmas morning or in the middle of the night, they come. They wake, rub sleep out of their eyes, hurriedly pull on clothes and make their way wherever they need to go, even though they know they’ll return home maybe to a little more sleep and then another full day.

They do it all for those who live in their coverage areas, for those who wouldn’t have any protection at all if volunteer fire departments didn’t exist.

Saginaw Fire Chief Dennis Agnew believes it’s a calling. After spending time with these brave people, I’d have to agree.

Amy Jones is the Associate Editor of the Shelby County Reporter. She can be reached at 669-3131 ext. 30 or by e-mail at amy.jones@shelbycountyreporter.com.