Survival Guide for the New Millennium Volunteer Fire Fighter
April/May 2000
Byron Kirkwood 
700 East Shawntel Smith Blvd.
P.O. Box 1376
Muldrow, OK. 74948-1376
Phone 918-427-3600
Fax 918-427-3214
email: byron@baproducts.com 
 

 

Sounding like an introduction at an AA meeting I hear myself say, "Hi, Im Byron and Im a volunteer fire fighter." The imaginary group in unison says, "Hello Byron ... tell us why youre here and what a volunteer fire fighter does."

Why am I here? Well like the old joke that goes, when they said "shut-up," I thought they said, "stand up."

While buying our home here in Northeastern Oklahoma, my real-estate lady mentioned that if we were a member of the fire department, that it would save us money on our home mortgage insurance.

Previously, in my desire to be better prepared for the coming times, I had considered wanting to learn more about fire fighting and had thought about becoming a volunteer. I had been a reserve police officer (volunteer) in the Dallas area over a 15-year period. And I had joined the Dallas Chapter of the American Red Cross; serving on the DAT (Disaster Action Team) and had taken courses and signed up for the DSHR (Disaster Services Human Resources). However, fire fighting was something I knew nothing about; except they lived half their life in fire stations, drove around in big red trucks, sprayed water on fires, and climbed trees to get the neighborhood catsor at least that was what I thought.

What is a volunteer fireman? It is a person like you or me that is willing to "volunteer" a portion of their time to their community. The individual may be retired and have extra time; they may have a full-time job and only be able to respond at night or on weekends; or they may be self-employed, like myself, and have some flexibility in the amount of time they can commit and the times in which they can respond to fire calls. The reasons for wanting to be a volunteer fireman varies: from the thrill of it (typically for the younger of age); to a desire to give something back to the community; as a hobby; or as in my case, it is more of self-defense. We live in a very wooded area and back up to a state game reserve. If we have a forest fire, I want to be able to save our lives and property. Also, it is part of my overall plan of being prepared.

What do we as volunteer fire fighters do? As a rural volunteer fireman, we are called into action when the fire alert sounds over our two-way radios or police scanner/ monitors. When a fire is reported, the local sheriffs office serves as our dispatcher. The first thing we hear is a warbling tone alert over our radio scanner. Then the dispatcher announces, "Highway 100 Fire Department, you have a fire at ..." then follows the location of the fire. Here in the country the directions may include local information, like, "Its on the dirt road behind Joe Greens house, to the left of the fork, down behind where the old school bus used to be parked." For those people that have lived here all their life, this is adequate. For a person that has fairly recently moved to the area, getting there can sometimes be a challenge. In my case, I usually contact my neighbor, who is also associated with our fire department and has lived in the area most of his life, and understands my problem of trying to get to the fire. So he gives me detailed instructions on how to get to the fire location. Fortunately, the other firemen in my department know the area and are usually on their way.

Fire calls for our department are normally either grass or forest fires, house fires (or other type of buildings, example: barns), or car fires. Each involves different techniques and equipment to handle. We also respond to calls to assist other fire departments in our area; this is called mutual aid.

Life with the rural fire department is a lot different than I had expected. Most of our time is spent doing things that have nothing to do with fighting fires. Our rural fire department, and those I am familiar with, are basically self-funded. We get our money to buy equipment and pay our operational expenses through several methods. Those that have a mortgage get the benefit of a discount on their insurance. But others, whose homes are paid for, often dont carry insurance and dont see the benefit of paying dues. Paid members are not billed for fire services.

Secondly, we receive some money from the state in the form of an annual grant that we and other rural fire departments in the state receive. This helps, but is not enough to even outfit a single fireman in new gear. Thus most of what we buy is used gear and equipment.

Most of our time is actually spent raising money for the department. We hold fundraisers. These include breakfasts, chili cookoffs and pie auctions, turkey shoots, basketball tournaments, and such. We may hold anywhere from one of these a month, to at least 4 a year, depending on the season and our need for funds. Thus, most of our time as firemen is taken up in trying to get enough money to keep our station operational and the firemen in workable equipment.

Getting training has probably been the greatest challenge to me since Ive been a fireman. I finally completed 30 hours of formal training sponsored by OSU (Oklahoma State University). Weve held in-house training, but the formal training was welcome.

And being a fireman of any sorts is not without its risks.

I could probably ramble some more, but this covers some of the main points about my being a volunteer firemanI hope you enjoyed it and found it interesting and informative.

Sincerely -- Byron


Related information:
Highway 100 West Volunteer Fire Department - picture of station and firefighters
(Emergency) Test Run - June/July 1993 - article mentioning the Red Cross DAT and DSHR

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Original date: April 4, 2000.
Last updated: August 1, 2000