In many ways they are the unsung heroes living among us. We’re talking about the men and women of our county who serve as volunteer firefighters. It’s a big time commitment for all of them — fires and medical emergencies happen 24 hours a day, seven days week. One thing is certain, if these individuals weren’t willing to make that commitment, we would be in a world of hurt.
According to a National Fire Protection Association report from a few years ago, about 70 percent of America’s firefighters are volunteers, and 85 percent of the nation’s fire departments are all, or mostly volunteer. Smaller communities are almost always served by volunteer departments.
But many of these volunteer departments are finding it more and more difficult to get and keep as many volunteers as the demand calls for. That’s a problem faced by smaller departments across the country, and it is a cause for concern.
Part of the reason for this is that people who have volunteered for years are getting older and are no longer able to be involved to the degree they once were, if at all. Another reason is the great deal of time needed for training and obtaining the required certifications — a lot of people just aren’t willing to give up their free time to do that. Blake Wisham, the training coordinator at Siletz Valley Fire District, said, “We all lose time with our friends and our family.” So why do they do it? Well, Wisham said, “It’s because we share that same common interest goal of helping others.” And, he said, it can be very rewarding for those who volunteer.
One thing is certain, they’re the first ones we’re gong to call when there’s a fire or medical emergency, and the need is likely only going to increase in areas of growing populations or higher-than-average numbers of older adults, as is the case in much of Lincoln County.
Granted, becoming a volunteer firefighter isn’t for everyone, but we would encourage any person who thinks they might fit into that role to visit their local fire department to see what opportunities are available — not all duties require one to become a hands-on firefighter. And people don’t need to have previous experience; the individual departments will provide the required training.
Not everybody can volunteer, and yet many of us in Lincoln County will benefit in one way or another from the men and women who do. If you get the chance, let them know how much you appreciate what they are willing to do for the rest of us.