In recent years, May the 4th has become known as “Star Wars Day” for obvious reasons. But did you know, May the 4th is National Firefighter’s Day and they have true stories from towns not so far, far away, and definitely not from a long time ago.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, there are an estimated 1,080,800 career and volunteer firefighters in the United States. Of the total number of firefighters, 358,000 (33%) were career firefighters and 722,800 (67%) were volunteer firefighters.
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Full disclosure, I (Monte) have been a volunteer firefighter for 17 years and served as an EMT for 12 of those years, so this is a topic near and dear to my heart.
There are 525,600 minutes in a year. It really doesn’t seem like that big of a number when you look at how we divide those minutes into our daily lives – family, work, hobbies, church, school.
Now, imagine putting all the things we deem important in our lives and taking our time and putting them on the back burner for total strangers. Volunteer firefighters do just that every day and night they are on duty. These men and women give the most valuable thing to their communities they ever could…their time.
I live in a small town of 4,000 people. It’s a lot smaller than most towns, but it is bigger than others. Nevertheless, the story is the same in any small community. There used to be about 40 of us making up the fire and EMS services for our town. So, 1 percent of the community looked after the other 99 percent. Again, this is the same in any small town. Take a minute to let that sink in.
As you all know, the trucks will roll anytime we are called and these men and women drop everything to help those in need, night or day, rain or shine, weekends, or holidays. More on this later.
What many people do not understand are the hundreds of hours first responders spend each year training on the skills to not only help the community but to keep themselves and others alive.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Movies and TV shows about firefighters may be based on some level of reality like the fire trucks are red (or in some towns, yellow, green, white etc. Sorry I had to address this it’s a friendly sticking point between departments), but that’s about it. Although we’d like to think we are all as fit and good-looking as Casey and Severide (Chicago Fire reference. Look it up).
On top of the nights and weekends for training and certifications, your local volunteers host Easter Egg hunts, pictures with Santa, fire prevention talks, open houses, picnics, barbecues, fish fries, and pancake breakfasts (Yes! We like to eat. Sorry, not sorry.) Oh, and let’s not forget everyone’s favorite…parades.
These are just a few of the community events the volunteers do for the residents of the towns they are dedicated to protecting. I tell of our “probies” (probationary firefighters) our job is 90 percent community service and 10 percent emergency response.
A lot of people join the fire service to get the t-shirt and the adrenaline rushes, but when the real work starts, they have better things to do or realize it’s not like the movies or tv. Yes, occasionally, we get that call that is like something from an action movie, but they are few and far between.
This commitment is not just for the first responders climbing on trucks. We couldn’t be the 1 percent without the support of our families. All the people who have had their dinners disrupted, plans changed, sleep disturbed, and countless other inconveniences thrust upon them just so we can answer the pager when it goes off. They know we are going and who knows when we will get back.
Most of the people who call 911 may never know our names, or we have known them our whole lives. Either way, they know we are coming if they need us. They are the 99 percent we are committed to helping.
We are just placeholders. The fire departments, wherever they are, have been around for decades. Those who made up the 1 percent before us laid the groundwork for us. At my firehouse, we honor them by hanging their pictures on the walls and knowing they are watching over us. Those of us who are doing it now are preparing the next 1 percent. The fire department will be here long after we are gone.
Being the 1 percent is not an easy task.
The words “Thank You” are not enough.
We care about small towns because that’s where we live too.