SUMMERDALE - Have you ever wanted to try your hand at learning to drive a firetruck or wear a hazmat suit? How about teach children about fire safety, save lives during a wreck, or put out a fire that would otherwise consume a family’s home? If so, it may be time to consider joining a volunteer fire department, and with new improvements being made at the Summerdale Volunteer Fire Department the members would be happy to welcome new faces.
During June, Summerdale Mayor David Wilson made the decision to revamp the volunteer fire department, stating that morale within the organization was low and the recruiting techniques were no longer working. The fire chief and assistant fire chief were removed from their positions, and the process of restoring morale was begun.
At the time, Wilson said: “As mayor I am in charge of all personnel. Even though those two positions are volunteer positions, it is still my responsibility and my decision. That is one of the hardest tasks I have to perform, but I did what I thought needed to be done.”
The revamped department started with three team members, and has grown to thirteen over approximately three months. It averages between 18 to 25 calls per month, and responds to a wide array of emergencies including wrecks, medical and house fires. A large concern during the expansion is recruiting team members to be available during daytime hours, as many of the current volunteers are more available during night. The minimum age to join is 18, and interested parties are required to fill out an application and perform a background check. Once joined, a new training initiative has been created for newcomers.
“New members can expect all the training will be provided for them, and that they will get to experience the feeling that a volunteer has when they get to help their community and experience the comraderies of the fire service,” said volunteer Lane Clemons.
Having a full fire department benefits communities in many ways, both recognized and not. Aside from the plus of having volunteers easily available at all hours to assist with emergencies, fire departments also affect local insurance through the ISO rating. And for anyone who wants to help but is worried they’re not cut out to fight fires, the volunteers stress there’s always something that can be done to assist your local fire department. From helping file paperwork, answering phones, directing calls, or supplying the department with water, there are multiple ways for anyone with the desire to help to do so.
Along with providing quality service, the Summerdale Volunteer Fire Department says it wants to be community and family-oriented. Volunteers greeted students on their first day of school and have plans to perform fire prevention education to the children at Summerdale School, and hope to put together an open house and invite the community into the station in the future. To the volunteers, it’s all about the community and working together as a team.
“This isn’t a one man show,” said Interim Chief Woody Kicklighter. “I couldn’t do this if I didn’t have a team standing with me. You’ve got to have trust when you’re going into a burning building with someone, trust that your teammates have your back, and I trust everyone here.”
The volunteers say the Summerdale council has been very involved and supportive of the department, both in making sure it has good equipment and is moving in a positive direction. To promote recruitment efforts, the town council voted that each volunteer receive $10 for every call responded to. The volunteers receive the incentive monthly.
“It was Mayor Wilson’s idea to give an incentive to volunteers who respond, that wasn’t the volunteers going and saying we needed payment for what we do,” Kicklighter said. “We’d still be here volunteering without that, but the mayor saw the volunteers using their personal money for gas and other expenses, which the incentive helps with.”
Those interested in becoming part of the Summerdale Volunteer Fire Department are encouraged to stop by the department (105 West Broadway, Summerdale) Thursday nights at 6:30 p.m., when the volunteers meet to train. Applications can be picked up and dropped off at the station. Or give them a call at 251-989-6723. You can also follow them on Facebook.
“We’re looking to go forward and build this department into something that we can all be proud of, and that the town and community can be proud of,” said volunteer Kenny Johnson.