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Firefighters that volunteer at the Beaver Dams and Hornby fire departments see firsthand what it takes to serve their community

It’s a Family Thing

For over a year, senior Joshua Brockway, sophomore Concetta Brockway, juniors Ross Hall and Alexander Barber and senior Michael McChesney have been volunteering at the Beaver Dams Fire Department. “It was kind of scary riding in the fire truck for the first time. Your adrenaline is pumping but then you’re like ‘I’m ready for this and nothing can hold me back,’” Barber said. photos by Alexis Woodcock

     Actively refuting the stereotype that teens are lazy and disengaged, student volunteers at the Beaver Dams Volunteer Fire Department risked their personal safety for the sake of helping their community. “I love to help people and the idea of being a volunteer firefighter is that I’m helping people for free,” freshman Ashley Willis said. “I don’t really get anything out of it and I don’t really want anything out of it except the pleasure of helping people.” 

     Until volunteers turned 18, or 16 in some departments, they were junior firefighters and had some restrictions on what they could and couldn’t do. “As a junior firefighter I am only allowed to go to brush fires and tree downs,” senior Alisa Willis said.

     “We can use the Indian Packs—a backpack full of water—to hit hot spots in brush fires. For tree downs, we move the branches that have been cut up.”

     As firefighters, the volunteers had to learn how to save other people and also themselves through required classes and trainings. “The craziest thing that I’ve had to do would have to be my previous class, which was ice water rescue,” junior Alexander Barber said. “They cut a hole in the ice and you have to self- rescue yourself once without ice picks and once with ice picks.”

     Every year, the fire departments put on the Harvest Festival and Trucker Treat at the fire hall on Halloween. “We have these firefighter games, where they have the hose and they have to shoot a ball. It’s two fire departments against each other and whoever gets the ball to the other side wins,” Ashley Willis said. “It’s crazy because everyone gets soaked and there’s a lot of yelling ‘higher, lower, just right, 

keep it there.’”  

Suit Up
To maximize speed and accuracy, junior Ross Hall practices for an emergency call. “We learn the basics we need like how to use the jaws of life, make sure we know our gear inside and out and that we know where everything is on the trucks,” Hall said. “It took me three or four months to get comfortable with all of the gear.”

  Firefighting wasn’t all fun and games though; they had to learn to deal with losses of fellow teammates and their families. “Losses are very hard,” sophomore Jeremy Willis said. “We have pastors come in every once in a while, especially with big emergencies. We’ve lost a lot of people. There are some very sad things that we have to go through.”

     Firefighters did what they could to help those in need. “There are some people that you might not deem worthy of saving, but as a fire department, you can’t think as yourself, you have to think as a community. There are some people you don’t like, but you have to save them just as quickly as those you do like,” Jeremy Willis said. “I keep emotion out of it. I just think, ‘ok, this person is going to get hurt if we don’t get them out, we’ve got to get them out.’”

     Being a firefighter came with many responsibilities and they had to know what they were able and unable to do. “My first structure fire was nerve wracking because I didn’t know how bad it was. The family lost everything but photos. It took from 2:30 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. to put the fire out,” junior Mackenzie Wakeman said. “The most challenging thing is when I’m in school and we get a call out and I can’t respond.”

     The unique experiences of the student volunteers fostered closer relationships amongst them. “When you’re looking death in the face, it’s amazing how close you get to people,” senior Joshua Brockway said. “Everyone in that department is like a brother or sister to me.”

“My best memory is telling my grandpa that I wanted to do it and ending up doing it. He was very proud because he was a member.”

MacKenzie Wakeman,11

Locked and Loaded
As Deputy Chief Kirk Smith instructs them, the crew locks their face respirators into place. “On training days, which is Mondays, we usually do truck checks for the first hour, then go through some training. We do some medical, some hose training and some other fields,” senior Alisa Willis said.

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