I do NFIRS. What are those, you may ask? National Fire Incident Reporting System reports. These are turned into the NFIRS database, which is within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and they also go to each state’s fire service. These online reports log every single structure fire, grass or wildland fire, wreck, storm watch, medical call or whatever other emergency paid and volunteer fire and rescue departments are dispatched to. I file them for the Deport Volunteer Fire Department. To receive grants, it’s necessary.

Working on filing these reminded me that the Deport VFD will host its first fundraiser in a long time Saturday night. Wasn’t it clever how I snuck that in?

This further brought me to remembering Lamar County alone has 19 volunteer fire departments. Red River County has 10. These departments go to fires, wrecks, lift assists, and more than anything, medical calls. They don’t get paid.

As I filed reports on various calls we made, I was struck by the hundreds of calls volunteers are dispatched to within these numerous volunteer organizations. It’s astonishing.

Chest pain calls that turn into CPR calls, helping elderly people up off the floor, Covid cases, breathing problems and strokes are but a few of the medical emergencies that volunteer department members are first on scene to. Medical events make up the biggest portion of calls.

Wrecks can pose some incredible challenges. Not only do responders have to tend to the injured, extricate victims and bodies, but they must control traffic. And that can be dangerous. Trust me on that, I know. When roads are shut down and traffic backs up, first responders can take some real abuse from frustrated motorists. And occasionally a flag wielding firefighter nearly gets run down by a driver who is mad because they are being held up.

Fires, well, those are some of the hardest things volunteers will ever tackle. Grass fires, brush fires and wildland fires can take hours of hard, filthy, hot work. Structure fires are very different and pose a whole different set of problems and skills. Volunteer men and women frequently can be up an entire night suppressing a house fire. Then they get cleaned up and go to work.

It’s not easy when a fire consumes everything a family owns and you can’t stop it. And every now and again a fire takes a life. That’s the hardest of all.

Did you know that volunteer fire departments make up about 75% of all fire departments in the United States? It’s a long and honored tradition that is often under-appreciated. Consider this: In one year, volunteer firefighters save U.S. taxpayers $37 billion. That’s in hours donated alone. It doesn’t factor in property saved, much less the thing that no price can be placed on, lives saved. And these volunteers save lives. I guarantee it.

People, sometimes we VFD members can be sharp, cross or even a bit conceited. We find ourselves in distressing, stressful and sometimes heartbreaking situations. This volunteer work comes at a high price at times. We’ve all seen the stuff of nightmares, I promise you. If that sounds overdramatic, I assure you it isn’t.

Myself, personally, have cradled dying people, seen bodies torn apart, witnessed grieving families more times than I can count. I’ve helped recover drowning victims, watched gunshot victims die and helped remove far too many people from wrecks. I’ve tried to comfort victims of assault and assure children that mama will be OK. I’ve begged addicts to please get help before the next overdose is fatal and hugged a spouse as I had to tell them their life partner was gone. My list could go on, as can that of every volunteer.

And the hardest thing? Usually we know the very people we are dealing with. They live in our communities. There are some calls every person will never get over. But guess what? It’s worth it to know you tried to help in some way.

As you can tell, I’m passionate about the subject. So, I’m asking you to all think the next time your particular VFD has a fundraiser to please support them. The water donations are incredibly helpful. The county helps with funding. Paris EMS supplies a lot of stuff for medical calls. But it’s a very expensive thing. There is fuel to be bought, truck maintenance, truck and station insurance to be paid. Equipment has to be replaced, and gear too. Oh that gear! By law Personal Protective Equipment, known as PPE, must meet certain standards and only be so old. And it’s about $4,000 for a set. Stations must be stocked and maintained and all the while those trucks are aging. Therefore, money needs to be saved towards major repairs or replacements.

Simply put, your volunteer fire department is there for you. Please be there for them. By the way, consider joining a department too. There is almost always a job someone can do. Including tedious NFIRS.

Nanalee Nichols is a former newspaper owner and a resident of Deport.

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