What it takes

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There’s no one, ideal profile of a volunteer firefighter. 

“Really, it looks like your neighbor,” said Morrisville volunteer firefighter Art Galati. “It looks like somebody who heard the message that you can help out your community.”

Morrisville, along with every other fire department and protection district in Polk County, is currently engaged in a recruitment drive, seeking new volunteers to help serve the communities they live and work in. 

While each department is always seeking new volunteers, Galati said the drive represents a concerted, collaborative effort between all the departments and districts to recruit new members. 

“We just decided to try a unified drive,” he said. “The intent is to be annual.”

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Central Polk County Fire Protection District firefighters gear up before heading out to extinguish a brush fire in southern Polk County on April 3. 

Central Polk County Fire Protection District Chief Robert Dickson agreed. 

“All the fire departments have joined together to get volunteers,” he said. “We all work together, and so even if they join another department, we’re all helping each other.”

Galati said as part of the effort, every fire department and district has put up banners. Several businesses have also kicked in by displaying the drive’s messaging on their signs. 

It all links back to the effort’s website: joinpolkfire.com. 

The site features a map, where potential volunteers can identify which department or district serves the area closest to where they live and includes contact information to help connect them with the corresponding fire chief. 

“You might see the banner in Humansville, but you live in Bolivar, so the website points you in the right direction,” Galati said.

Last month, CPC commissioned a recruitment video, featured on its Facebook page, showing firefighters at work extinguishing a house fire and a vehicle fire, and also responding to a wrecked car. 

“We’re always looking for volunteers, but we’re also looking for different avenues to get new people,” Dickson said. 

The video concludes with an open question: “Do you have what it takes?”

Dickson said newly recruited volunteer firefighters enter departments in a probationary status. The rank gives recruits an opportunity to see if volunteering is right for them, he said.

“It’s a lot to undertake,” Dickson said.  

Galati said many people likely don’t realize that the country’s fire service is mostly made up of volunteers. 

“When they call 911, they may not realize that their neighbor might be the one to pick up the call,” he said.

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Furthermore, Galati said many likely don’t realize a volunteer firefighter does more than just fight fires. 

Volunteers also respond to medical emergencies and vehicle wrecks, and some who come to departments utilize medical or first responder skills. 

Departments and fire protection districts need all types, he said. In particular, skilled drivers have roles operating department vehicles. 

“You might be a mechanic,” he said. “Your skill might not be in firefighting. But, things break. Being able to keep things moving saves money that we can put toward more equipment. If you’ve got administrative skills, all departments have phone calls to return, bills to pay and events to schedule.”

While some volunteers have used their roles in departments as a chance to give back, Galati pointed out that volunteer firefighters sometimes advance to paid careers in the fire service. 

“Technically, it’s all free training,” he said. 

Galati said the recruitment drive still has openings for businesses and organizations to partner in sponsoring informational banners. For more information, visit the website or follow on Facebook at facebook.com/PCFRTA. 

For Dickson, volunteering to lead a fire department has been fulfilling, he said. 

“It’s rewarding to go help people in need, in all avenues,” he said. “It wasn’t something when I was younger I saw myself doing, but I’m glad to be here.”

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