Heroes in disguise

Published 8:51 am Monday, July 11, 2011

Volunteer firefighters, like the ones shown here, respond to a variety of calls throughout the rural portions of the county in an effort to keep homes, business and residents safe — all with no pay.|File Photo

Note: This is the first in a series of articles aimed at volunteer fire departments and firefighters in Escambia County.

There are heroes among us and many of them go undetected on a daily basis until a crisis situation arises in their community.

With as many as 300 volunteer fire fighters in Escambia County, rural homes and businesses rely on these heroes in disguise to protect their property as well as provide assistance in a variety of emergency situations.

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Joe Moffitt, president of the Escambia County Volunteer Firefighters Association, said the diversity of calls answered by volunteers across the county is sometimes mind-boggling.

“Our volunteer fire departments answer a lot of different calls,” Moffitt said. “We respond house fires, brush fires, vehicle fires, hazardous material incidents, medical assistance calls — just about anything you can imagine. We have been called to remove trees from the roadway and even help ambulance workers get people back into their bed.”

Although most volunteer fire departments serve only rural areas near where their department headquarters is located, there is an occasion need to assist within a city.

“We have been called to assist municipal departments on several occasions,” Moffitt said. “Typically that response is only needed when there is a structure fire or a brush fire that is in danger of damaging homes or businesses.”

Those calls come at all hours of the day and night, and Moffit said some departments may not be able to respond to a call because of personnel issues.

“Volunteers usually have other jobs and are at work when some of those calls for help come in,” Moffitt said. “Especially during the day when most people are at work – some departments just can’t respond.”

Those instances of times when volunteers are available to answer a call is one reason Moffitt said the Association is in need of more volunteers.

“Right now we have about 300 volunteers that cover 24 departments,” Moffitt said. “That’s about 12 or 13 per department and we could use double that or more at each department.”

Moffitt said some departments are in desperate need of more volunteers to help cover calls when they are needed.

“Little Rock could use some more volunteers and so could Barnett Crossroads,” Moffitt said. “Really, all of our departments could use more volunteers. Every one of them is in need of more volunteers. It’s a shame that our society does no emphasize volunteerism. Most everybody wants to get paid for what they do. They don’t want to volunteer.”

Moffitt said, although the volunteers are paid a salary, all equipment they need to be a firefighter will be provided to them for that purpose.

“There isn’t any specialized training needed to volunteer with a department,” Moffitt said. “Any volunteer will be provided with training once they are on board and they will be outfitted with equipment necessary to fight fire or provide other assistance.”

Moffitt said some departments have guidelines and criteria that must be met before a firefighter can be active on the scene of an emergency.

“Some of our departments require more training than others depending on their protocol,” Moffitt said. “Some departments even require background checks, drug screenings and implement a probation period for new volunteers.

“The only thing you have to do to get your name on the volunteer list is to talk to the chief of the department in the area where you live.”

Next in the series focusing on Escambia County’s volunteer fire departments and firefighters will be a closer look at funding and how residents in communities can help.