The writer, of Syracuse, Nebraska, is a lobbyist for the Nebraska State Volunteer Firefighters Association and Nebraska Fire Chiefs Association.
Volunteer firefighters and volunteer emergency medical personnel are told during their recruitment interviews, and quickly realize when they begin their service, that they are on call 24 hours a day. They respond to emergencies during frigid winter conditions, blistering summer heat and work hours -– whether that is at their employer's place of business or trying to make ends meet as a sole proprietor of a small business.
Nebraska communities served by these volunteers depend on them to be their first line of defense for many types of emergencies. This was certainly true this winter and early spring.
Blizzard conditions during February along Interstate 80 near York resulted in multiple vehicle accidents. The York and Waco fire departments, among others, were dispatched throughout that day. Two of the Waco volunteer fire department vehicles were struck by traffic on the Interstate, resulting in injuries to four of the six volunteer first responders. The mid-March blizzards and flooding across the state pushed volunteers and some first responders from career fire departments into perilous situations that most of us experience only while watching a movie or reading of the heroic activities of first responders.
Nebraska's volunteer firefighters and volunteer emergency medical personnel answer the call when the page goes out, summoning them to drop everything they are doing and, in an instant, leave their ordinary lives and become the extraordinary people Nebraskans have relied upon for decades.
The combined mid-March blizzards and flooding pushed the volunteers out of the safety of their own homes to respond to the emergencies, remain on the scene and provide life-saving rescues across the state. Many did so repeatedly, without sufficient rest or food and while sacrificing time and income from their employment.
Volunteer firefighters and volunteer emergency medical responders are tough enough and selfless enough to put in a full day's work and then be ready for more. First responders run toward danger, not away.
But what if no one answered the call? Scary thought, isn't it?
For volunteer fire and emergency medical services, keeping the department strong is a struggle -– they face so much responsibility, so much training and so much time away from family. All of these burdens are accepted by those who become volunteers.
Volunteer first responders have served their local communities for decades at only a fraction of the cost to the taxpayers which would have resulted from implementing a system of paid fire departments and paid emergency medical services. Most cities, villages and rural areas cannot afford to maintain their current level of fire protection and emergency medical services without a local pool of committed and dedicated volunteer first responders.
Many first responders join as volunteers to give back to their community.
Some serve because their family members before them started the tradition. Volunteer first responders serve proudly in their communities. However, state and local government officials must continue to recognize that additional work is needed to make sure all portions of Nebraska receive emergency public safety services. We must never learn the answer to the question: What if no one answered the call?