Who can be a volunteer firefighter?

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By Ken Begley


Firemen never die, they just burn forever in the hearts of the people whose lives they saved. 

~Susan Diane Murphree


So what makes up a volunteer firefighter?  

We all ought to know because Washington County is protected by four separate volunteer fire departments.  They include the Springfield Fire Department, the Willisburg Fire Department, the Mackville Fire Department and the Washington County Fire Department. It’s a thin line of brave volunteers that frequently mean the difference between life and death.

I asked one of our volunteer firefighters, Mike Mulholland, a series of questions on the subject.  Mike’s a volunteer for the Washington County Fire Department.

What event first generated your interest in becoming a firefighter? 

Helping people. The turning point was when I was going home from work one day and saw the fire truck sitting outside the station. I did not know it at the time, but it was waiting for one more firefighter to respond. As I got closer to home I saw traffic was backed up and several emergency vehicles were going past. It turned out there was an accident with a vehicle on fire and two people lost their lives.  The next day I went to the fire station and applied to be a volunteer firefighter. My first day was Mother’s Day in 1998 with the Boyle County Fire Protection District. 

Were you married at the time, and if so, what did your wife think?

I was not married at the time I started my volunteer fire service.  However, when I was thinking of making fire service my career, my wife Michelle was behind me 100 percent.  She was very encouraging and even tried to get me to become a full time firefighter before I had complete confidence in myself that I could do it.

Do you ever worry about getting hurt when you have such a young family and wife?

I guess it’s always in the back of my mind, but I try not to think of that.  When the alarm drops, my training kicks in and I am concentrating on what needs to be done to get everyone to safety.

How did you go from being a volunteer firefighter to becoming a full time firefighter?

When I started my career in Boyle County, I was fortunate to be assigned to a fire station that was “volunteer,” but almost all the volunteer firefighters were full time firefighters in Lexington or Danville. After working with them for several months, the captain of my station asked me if I would be interested in applying for a part-time job as a firefighter with the city of Danville fire department. I was hired by the Danville fire department in January of 2000 as a part-time firefighter, and in January of 2003 as a full time firefighter. I have progressed through the ranks of the Danville fire department and am currently a Battalion Chief in charge of Second Platoon.

How did you go about becoming a firefighter?

If a person wants to become a firefighter in Washington County, all they have to do is contact a member of the fire department, or come to the fire station on Armory Hill. If no one is at the fire department or you do not know someone on the fire department, call 336-9718. Leave a message and someone will contact you. You will then be given an application form to complete and return to the fire station.  The chief will have a background check done. If you pass, you will have an interview with four or five members of the fire department.   After the interview, your application will be brought before the members of the department for a vote to become a probationary firefighter.

If a young person in high school is thinking about getting into fire fighting, what would you recommend?

Talk to someone in the fire service to find out what firefighters do, and if you are still interested then go through the process I stated earlier. The fire department can provide the training in the Explorer Program.  All you need is the time, willingness to learn, a completed application and your parents’ permission.

 (Writer’s note:  You can get into the Explorer Program at age 16 to participate in training, but you will not be allowed to fight fires until age 18.)

What was the most dangerous fire you have witnessed since being a firefighter?

All fires have the potential for serious injury. The most dangerous fire I was a part of was a house fire in Danville. I was a lieutenant in Danville and with the second engine on scene.  The first engine on scene was inside the home putting the fire out. It was a basement fire, which is the most dangerous fire to fight. The interior crew advised the fire was out so the Battalion Chief assigned me and another firefighter (we always work in pairs of at least two) to enter the first floor and check for extension (fire spreading).  The conditions were normal on the first floor, so we didn’t take a hose line with us, just some tools. To make a long story short, the fire was not out and the floor fell in.  We were able to escape the home right before the floor caved in.

What type of person is the best fit for being a firefighter?

There is no one type of person that is best fit for being a firefighter. They have to be calm, have the time and willingness to learn, and most importantly, an understanding family because they will need to be gone at a moment’s notice. A firefighter has to be on call to respond to an emergency at any given time of day or night.  We miss lots of family holidays.

What’s the saddest day you’ve ever had as a firefighter?

Any day or call is sad when someone loses their life.

What was the happiest?

I can’t recall the happiest day, but I remember one occasion that was very memorable. There was a very bad accident, a girl was trapped in her car and I cut her out. About a year later I was with some friends that knew her. We ran into her and her family at a store. She was very grateful for me helping her that day. She asked several questions about that day and started to cry. It was a very emotional meeting.

Well guys, that’s the end of the column.

Thanks for the interview Mike, and thank you and all the other volunteers for their service to our community.  It has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated.