Paid firemen are few and far between in rural Appalachia. Each community typically boasts a volunteer fire department made up of local men and women willing to give their time and energy to helping their neighbors. It comes with some advantages. They are the first to know all the gossip (see the letter "G") which is a commodity around these parts. They get to ride around in a shiny red truck and help with the annual Ramp supper fundraiser (see the letter "R"). Property taxes include a portion that goes to your local volunteer fire department but it's really never enough.
But I think the biggest advantage to volunteering (aside from being an amazing person) is the chance to be as close to a superhero as mountainly possible. I say this because of a recent incident at the high school where I teach. A transformer blew, knocking out power, and setting off the fire alarms. Because it came from the school and wasn't a scheduled alarm, gossip flew that the high school had blown up. (I kid you not).
Volunteer firemen and women poured through the hallways while we herded the kids out to the football field. There was no fire, but the power was fried. Teachers shepherded students through darkened hallways to retrieve their belongings then we all left for the day. Amidst all this, the firefighters directed traffic with magnum flashlights, spoke into crackling walkie talkies and clomped around the school in big boots.
Once they were given the all clear, a couple of those helmets and emergency vests came off and I realized there were students under there. With just a quick costume change, those high school kids had elevated from one of us to one of them - the heros, come to save the day. Real life super heroes. Or as close as you can get in Appalachia.
Have you ever volunteered as a firefighter? Ever wanted to?