While it might have originated with Hollywood writers, the quote from “Pearl Harbor” by Lt. Col. James Doolittle (played by Alec Baldwin) “There is nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer,” has been used by many volunteer organizations to boost membership and morale, and it is easy to understand why. It’s true.
Volunteers have a connection to what they do — the service they provide, the people they help, the mission they set out to accomplish. Local firefighters are no exception. During a recent chat with some local volunteer firefighters who have more than 150 years of experience between the three of them, they all said they volunteer because they want to help others.
“I think that spirit is alive and well in our country as it has ever been, but I think people think we are all paid,” Rocky Mount Fire Department Lt. Brad Basham said.
Basham said he tells incoming volunteers they might respond to 100 or even 1,000 calls before they feel like they have made a difference, but “just that one time is all it takes.”
It isn’t a job for everyone, and being a volunteer means there is zero pay involved, but there are reasons to sign up.
Because so many firefighter positions are volunteer-only, full-time firefighter jobs are difficult to come by. Volunteering will not only provide training but invaluable hands-on experience that can further a person’s chances of becoming employed by a paid department.
There is a sense of community a firefighter usually experiences. Responding to calls with other volunteers and sharing those experiences bonds firefighters. It can also bond them to the people to whom they respond.
“You might drive past (the Rocky Mount fire station) every day and just think this is a nice building,” said 32-year volunteer firefighter David Young. “But guess what if I respond to a call and then I see you at the store, you remember me.”
Working with kids, teaching them not to be afraid of firemen, and teaching kids fire safety along with other community outreach duties also strengthens the sense of community. Similar results are yielded during the annual open house or even when responding to a call.
Unlike a typical office job, most volunteer firefighters are on-call from home and they might have to drop everything and respond any time of the day or night. However, also unlike most office jobs, many firefighters gather around a kitchen table and confer, venting about the day’s events and building a bond. Most firehouses feel like a family home inside because of that bond. Firefighters see the best of humanity and the worst, but there is no substitute for the feeling when you save a person’s life.
Paid or not, no firefighter can be compensated enough for that.
If you feel good about helping a neighbor, volunteering a few hours a week helps everyone. It saves the community money and builds up the community at the same time.