[Vision2020] Volunteer Firefighters: Answering the Call

Tom Hansen thansen at moscow.com
Sun Nov 28 07:47:44 PST 2010

A very special vote of thanks to the volunteers of the Moscow Volunteer
Fire Department.

Courtesy of CBS Sunday Morning at:





Volunteer Firefighters: Answering the Call

Three-Quarters of Those Who Battle Fires and Protect Our Lives and
Property Are Volunteers

The many volunteers who protect our lives and communities all year long
deserve our heartfelt thanks this weekend. That's the way it is with these
volunteers, of whom our Peter Greenberg is one. Here he is with their

It happens every 23 seconds . . . somewhere in this country firefighters
are responding to a call.

And what you probably don't know is that three-quarters of them are
volunteers, taking their lives in their hands - and sometimes paying the
ultimate price . . .

Every October, thousands converge on northern Maryland town of Emmitsburg,
at the National Fire Academy, to pay tribute to these men and women who've
lost their lives in the line of duty.

This year 105 firefighters were recognized, and 43 were volunteers.

Volunteers like Steven Koeser. His friends and family called him "Peanut"

"One way to describe him, he had a heart of gold," said Kelly Walesh. She
met Koeser seven years ago. Not long afterward, they became a couple . . .

"He was a jack of all trades," she said, who loved his daughter.

So, a few weeks ago, Walesh traveled from the village of St. Anna in
central Wisconsin to remember, AND honor, the father of their daughter,

It happened last December. Koeser, a 15-year veteran volunteer, responded
to a call . . . a dumpster fire at a metal foundry.

The dumpster exploded, injuring eight and killing Steven Koeser.

Kelly "freaked out." The first thing in her mind, she said, was their

At first, four-year-old Lexus didn't quite understand.

"She'd say once in a while, 'When's Daddy coming home?' And I said, 'He's
not,'" Kelly recalled. "And after a couple months she started asking
questions about what happened, and [I] answered them honestly and I think
she understands now."

"I do," Lexus said.

Towns across the country rely on volunteers like Steven Koeser to respond
when the call comes in. In Wisconsin alone, of the state's 870 fire
departments, some 800 are volunteer.

In the town of La Farge (population 775), just about anyone can join.

Chief Philip Stittleburg is an attorney and retired criminal prosecutor.
Dave Sarnowski is a retired schoolteacher. Reggie Nelson works for Verizon

The department's budget is just $35,000 a year.

Nationwide, it's estimated that volunteers save communities $37 billion a
year in labor costs.

"In addition to providing coverage for the village, we provide coverage to
all parts of seven surrounding townships, too," said Stittleburg. "So
we've got a coverage area of 135 square miles."

"They're the backbone of our rescue system across the United States," said
Jamie Smith, director of the Museum of Firefighting in Hudson, N.Y. "I
mean, what would we do without them?"

Smith says the very first volunteer fire brigades in America were
organized by Peter Stuyvesant, Governor of the Dutch settlement of New

"He did a lot for fire prevention safety," she said. "He appointed fire
wardens to go around and examine chimneys - and, if they were not clean,
to fine those people."

The museum's collection chronicles the legacy of volunteer firefighting in
America . . .

"It's part of our culture," said Smith. "They've just always been there,
and then they're taken for granted and no one thinks twice about it."

But NOT in towns like La Farge. Here, volunteers aren't just part of the
fabric of the community . . . they are the community.

So when they respond to a call, there's a 100-percent chance that the
person in need will be either a neighbor, a friend, or someone even closer
. . .

"On the way out there, they were saying it was bad, 'Get moving, guys . .
. '" recalls Andy Segal.

It was on a March day seven years ago that Segel responded to an accident

The victim was Segel's 17-year-old son, Randy.

"Well, when I got on scene and I saw it was his vehicle, I was at least
comforted by - I had my friends with me. They took over, you know, and I
pretty much just stepped back from it," Segal said.

He died at the scene.

"It was a, a tough situation," said Segal. "But I wasn't about to give
this up, you know? I said, 'That's not gonna do anybody any good.'

"You know, I'm here to try to help the community, help people that need
help, and givin' it up wasn't gonna help."

As tough as it can be sometimes, helping your neighbor in their hour of
need is what volunteer fire fighting is all about.

Payday, says Chief Stittleburg, is "Thank you."

"When the person comes up, and shakes your hand and says, 'Thank you for
saving my house.' 'Thank you for cutting my child out of that crashed
vehicle.' 'Thank you for saving everything in the world that's important
to me.' That's payday."


Seeya round town, Moscow.

Tom Hansen
Moscow, Idaho

"The Pessimist complains about the wind, the Optimist expects it to change
and the Realist adjusts his sails."

- Unknown

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