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Are you at your strongest when others may be at their weakest?

Do you study your enemy to find its weaknesses?

Do you practice your fighting skills until you can’t get them wrong?

Do you come from generations of warriors or is it simply in your blood?

Have you taken the sacred oath that will place you among the elite?

Are you willing to risk your life for what you believe?

Do you fit the profile?

If you do, then you are a firefighter and more specific to this article; a volunteer firefighter.

I was preparing to write a blog on the continuing events in Boston, but that was interrupted so the Chief and I could finish a close-out report for a grant.

While we were at the fire station working on the report, we had the TV on to Fox News. The coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing was interrupted by reports that there had been a massive explosion  at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas (population 2800) near Waco, Texas. More bad news on top of what’s already a very bad week for our country.

Upon hearing some of the demographic information, it had me thinking that many rural, volunteer fire departments would fit that description. This is taken from the city of West, TX website:

The West Volunteer Fire Department was established in 1894 as the West Hose Company #1. The first equipment for West Hose Co. #1 was a Hose Reel drawn by a rope tied to a volunteer’s saddle horn. In the late 1890s the equipment was upgraded to a fire wagon drawn by a black stallion. By the turn of the century a two horse “Modern Seagraves” Fire Carriage was purchased.  In 1915 the first motorized apparatus was purchased – a Cadillac Hose Truck with a 40 gallon chemical tank. The first “pumper” for the Fire Dept was a 1925 Reo with a 500 gpm (gallons per minute) pump. In 1929 a Ford Model A was added to the Fire Dept. fleet.

The fire department was originally stationed in the historic city hall, then the city garages, and  finally was moved to its current location in 2003. The current firehouse was paid for by the work of the all volunteer fire department through fundraisers such as the Annual West Fire Dept. BBQ Cook-off held in March. The volunteers raised half of the funds  to build the fire house and the other half was paid for by the City of West.

The fire department currently relies on pagers for its 33 firemen, but also still depends on the loud sirens throughout the City.  City of West is rated at a Class 5 through ISO.

Fire Alarm Warnings

1 blow

Small Fire (Out of town)

2 blows

Fire Drill or meeting

3 blows

Major Structure Fire

4 blows

Use of JAWS

9 blows

Sever Storm Warning (Tornado)”


I will not be commenting on the West, Texas incident. However; my thoughts and prayers go out to them.

The town where I grew up is a rural community of 2800. It has a farmers’ coop, ethanol plant and a couple of industrial plants. So, there is a lot of fertilizer and anhydrous there. It is a tight-knit community with mostly local people working in town. Their fire department is all-volunteer and they have fundraisers every year to raise money for equipment. Sound familiar?

As I said; the all-volunteer West Fire Department could be the face of many rural, volunteer fire departments throughout this country. And the volunteer firefighters who populate their fire departments might very well fit my profile.

Are you at your strongest when others may be at their weakest?

In other words: are we strong enough-both physically and mentally-to mitigate an incident that has caused someone else to feel weak and vulnerable?

We are called for help for any number of reasons; some of them are downright confounding. We don’t tell the caller (or Dispatch) to call someone else. We figure that there is SOMETHING that we can do. Squirrel in the chimney? We got it. Someone locked their keys in the car? Did you know that you can call this number and they can unlock it from there? Something is chirping and you can’t find it? Your smoke alarm needs new batteries. And every now and then, there will be a fire. We have to be ready-physically and mentally. We cannot grow lazy and complacent just because we don’t have a high volume of calls.

Do you study your enemy to find its weaknesses?

Fire is the enemy, but that definition has been expanded to include a building that is under fireload (Brannigan). To know about fire progression, you have to know about building construction, building materials, reading smoke, wind velocity, doing a full 360 upon arrival and watching for changes in conditions are just a few of the considerations. To get to know the enemy better; it is here that you train like you fight and then fight like you train. Burn buildings/containers are a good starting point, but acquired structures for live-fire training is where you will get real world, hands-on experience. If you are not having a half-dozen structural fire calls a day, then you need live training to learn and to improve. There is valuable experience to be gained.

Do you practice your fighting skills until you can’t get them wrong?

This is critical, because the only thing that can take the place of low call volume is more training. I know that it gets tedious to keep donning and doffing the SCBA, but how else are you going to cut down the clock? Seconds count when you get to the scene, you have fire showing and a frantic parent telling you that her kids are still inside. Keep in mind “kids” might also mean “pets”.

So; you have to learn the skills until you can do them blind-folded, in your sleep and with your gloves on. And after you learn how to do that, then you are going to learn to throw a 24-footer by yourself. No; you’re not a truckie yet.

Do you come from generations of warriors or is it simply in your blood?

We know that the fire service has a long history of tradition. In many families, firefighters in those families can be traced back several generations. Some might even try to tell you that, when the caveman invented Fire, his Cro-Magnon grandpa was there to put it out! Regardless; everyone has their reasons for joining a volunteer fire department. It’s true that in the early days, it was more of a social organization in many communities, but because of liabilities and just the sheer nastiness of some of the hazards associated with fire suppression, it has become necessary to learn skills at a professional level.

Have you taken the sacred oath that will place you among the elite?

No; this isn’t where Gomer and Otis are deputized by Sheriff Andy. This is where you honest-to-God raise your right hand and state that you will serve and protect the life and property in your community to the best of your ability and knowing that you risk your life to do so. Remember that firefighting is not a hobby, a boy’s night out or “fun”. It is serious, dangerous and there are no do-overs. You will want to know BEFORE the Moment of Truth whether or not you have the heart for it.

Are you willing to risk your life for what you believe?

This isn’t a hypothetical or theoretical question. We have seen the many ways that firefighters can die. “Willing to risk your life” doesn’t mean that you are “willing to die”. Know the difference, but also know that it can happen on the way to training, at training or after training. It can happen enroot to the scene, at the scene or after the scene. Firefighters have been taken from us while they slept. We have seen catastrophic failures of equipment. We have seen sudden changes in conditions that have resulted in multiple firefighter deaths. Everyone has to give the Grim Reaper its proper respect by training and responding at the highest level of professionalism.

Our time on this Earth is short. Spending time to help others in their time of need is of the highest calling. We should want to train to provide the best care that we can, instead of re-hashing arguments over YouTube videos.

Respect the fallen by saving the questions and by extending your thoughts and prayers to everyone affected by the loss. Reports will come and we will honor the fallen by learning from them.

In doing so, we remember them by never forgetting their sacrifice.


The opinions and views expressed are those of the article’s author, Art Goodrich, who also writes as ChiefReason. They do not reflect the opinions and views of, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper. All articles by the author are protected under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella and cannot be reproduced in any form without expressed permission.

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