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Bless our volunteer firefighters

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By Ken Begley

 

 I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man than a fire engine. 

~Kurt Vonnegut

A couple of weeks ago I read an article in The Springfield Sun about a petition being circulated by Willisburg Fire Chief Jesse Carney and Mackville Fire Department Treasurer Bobby Lee Russell. They’re requesting the community dues for fire protection in their areas be raised to $45 a year and collected by the sheriff department as part of the annual tax bill starting in 2013.

Right now, the voluntary dues are $25 a year and half the people forget to pay them. The result is badly-funded organizations that provide life and property-saving functions. 

This request is not something new in our county and, quite honestly, it’s a very reasonable appeal by the fire chiefs.

The sheriff’s department already collects $45 on the tax bill for the Washington County Fire Protection Association, which covers areas separate from the Willisburg and Mackville fire departments. My family falls in the Washington County Fire Protection Association’s jurisdiction. I was fully in favor of this proposition when it raised my tax bill a few years ago. I would hope that everyone in the Willisburg and Mackville areas will support this as well. 

Let me start this article by asking everyone if they knew who the fire chiefs were for Willisburg and Mackville if you didn’t read it at the beginning of this column? 

How about on the Springfield or Washington County Fire Protection Association? 

Do you know any of the other volunteer firefighters? 

Don’t feel bad.

Nobody else does, either.

They’re a quiet group. 

They spent their time doing the job and getting their thanks only from people they’ve saved and from God above. They don’t spend their time seeking publicity, as they would consider that to be unproductive.

But you know what?

It’s a sad day when we have volunteers that are willing to give their time and risk their lives for us and we don’t even know who they are, let alone properly thank them. 

If they received any sort of compensation at all, I’m sure it didn’t pay enough to buy Aspirin for all the headaches that came with the job.

I asked one fire chief with a few decades of volunteering under his belt why he did this a couple of years ago. 

He said, “I was never in the military so I figure this is my way of giving back to the community.”

You know what? 

I’ve got over 37 years wearing first navy and then army uniforms. I was well-compensated for every bit of labor I ever did while in uniform. This guy wasn’t.  He has seen more danger, was paid virtually nothing for his efforts and received no lasting thanks from our community. 

Everyone has seen it before in other non-profit organizations. The same people tend to keep volunteering over and over again until people expect their services instead of honoring them for it. 

Yet, I have to say that volunteer firefighters are a different breed of volunteers.  They’re willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their community and some have done so in the past. 

It was volunteer firefighter Mr. Tommy Hale who died while responding to the fire at James I. Miller’s redryer warehouse many years ago. It was located at the bottom of Armory and Lebanon Hills in Springfield. What can you say to the family of someone that has given it all to protect you? There have been others injured along the way.

Don’t let anybody kid you. 

This is dangerous work and it is only a matter of time before someone else in this county will die in the line of duty. I sure don’t want it said that we, the  taxpayers, were too stingy and the loss of life was the result.

Giving the Mackville and Willisburg volunteers a predictable flow of funds will give them more time to train, along with better equipment. They shouldn’t be required to spend their time trying to collect money and hold fund raisers, as well as be on call to fight fires with potentially inferior equipment.

Remember this. 

They are volunteers. 

They are not paid civil servants. 

If we had paid firefighters, then you would see your costs skyrocket. If you don’t support your local volunteer fire department then they could eventually “go away.”  You might think it would be cheaper to not have any fire department. 

Wrong again.

Your homeowners’ insurance rates would, again, skyrocket. One insurance agent told me that if we didn’t have fire protection then my policy would go up over $1,000 a year. Compare that to the $45 a year I pay.

One final note.

I really think sometime this year all the churches and their members should gather together for a blessing of our volunteer fire fighters and their equipment.

It’s never been done in Washington County. 

The New Haven and Rolling Fork volunteer fire departments recently did just that. It would be a time for our community to meet these brave volunteers, thank them for their service  and ask for God’s blessing in the heroic work they bravely carry out. 

I think God would like that.

It’s the least we can do.