Volunteers Needed: Part Two
Windy Keith of Carmel comes from a family that’s very involved in the community, but it was a childhood experience that pushed her to volunteer in her own way.”Our house burned and it’s something you never forget. So I always thought when the sirens go by, my curiosity was always there, and I just decided to get involved. I needed to give back to my town,” said Keith.She joined her local volunteer fire and rescue department and quickly realized she was needed. “In the daytime, sometimes I’m it. There might be one or two other people who respond,” said Keith.Fire chiefs across the state don’t always know why volunteers like Keith sign up, but they do know they need a lot more people like her. Chief Joe Guyotte of Dover-Foxcroft, who also serves on the National Volunteer Fire Council, says he’s never turned anyone away.Guyotte said, “You might never ever climb the tallest ladder or go into that burning building, but you can be right there on the fire ground helping us out, grabbing a hose, pulling it out of the truck, being a pump operator or whatever you’re capable of doing. We’ll train you.”But getting those volunteers to walk through the door is the hard part. Fire chiefs are trying to reach out to young people and encourage them to join. Many departments have junior programs, made up of high school students who want to be firefighters someday. The hope is that when those kids are old enough, they’ll want to sign up.Through his work on the National Volunteer Fire Council, Guyotte has helped write a grant that could boost recruitment. Six New England states joined together to apply for the grant. It would pay for students to attend college, and in return, they’d owe their local fire departments volunteer service. They should know in January if the grant is approved.Meantime, chiefs are talking to the young people they do have in their departments about how to get more people their age interested.Carmel Fire and Rescue Chief Mike Azevedo said, “There’s a big thing with pictures on websites. People get very upset about pictures of things, the older school does, but these young kids they’re on there after there’s a fire, they’re on there looking for pictures. They want to see the houses, they want to see what we did. That’s how we’re going to keep these young kids in.”Once they’re in, it’s not a guarantee they’ll stick with it. So fire departments are trying to make it easier on their volunteers and find ways to show them they’re appreciated.”Uniforms, trying to fund that. It shouldn’t cost you to be here. Gas cards, we’re trying to find ways to say ‘Thank you,’” said Azevedo.They know it takes a special kind of person to volunteer to do this job, but those who have and do volunteer say the reward is worth it.”Once you go on a few calls and you see what it’s like, you see the difference you can make in your community, and that you’re helping your neighbors, it’s real and I wouldn’t trade that for anything,” said Keith.