Training sparks volunteer action
Monthly training has volunteer firefighters cutting through cars and proving themselves to their peers
Alayne Morris found her initiation into the De Soto Fire Department strenuous.
During the department's monthly training last Wednesday, Morris was asked to cut off a door of a junk car with a pair of 40-pound pneumatic shears.
"It was heavy," she said. "It was a good workout."
Morris said the self-imposed pressure to prove herself to the watching volunteers added to her difficulties. She need not have worried. When the door dropped to the concrete, Morris was greeted with a round of high fives by her fellow volunteers, including her boyfriend, Gregg Parish.
The presence of Morris proves the 31 volunteers in the De Soto Fire Department are not firemen but firefighters, Fire Chief Kevin Ritter said.
The volunteers meet once a month for required training, Ritter said. At the sessions, the volunteers familiarize themselves with equipment and practice procedures.
Jim Titus, a volunteer with one year of experience, said the firefighters take the training sessions seriously because they have real, perhaps lifesaving, applications.
"Everything I've learned in training and classes, I've put to work on calls," he said.
De Soto firefighters take pride in their performance and response times, Ritter said.
"We have the same level of firefighters as full-time departments," he said.." The only difference is some get a check and some don't."
Members like Ritter and Randy Mains blur the distinction further. Both work full time for out-of-town departments. Mains said the progression from volunteer to full-time firefighter is a natural one.
"A lot of our guys work for fire departments, but everybody started out in the same position, and that's volunteering," Mains said
The city council has budgeted one full-time firefighter position for 2002. Ritter said the department hopes to promote a volunteer to the position. The full-time firefighter will extend the department's educational efforts and perform fire inspections for the city, he said.
His volunteer service brings the satisfaction of giving back to the community, Titus said. Another reward is the camaraderie that exists between the firefighters, he said.
"We get together a lot," he said. "We're basically one big family."
The department has surpassed its goal of 30 volunteers. Still, Ritter said there is room for more.
"I'd go for 50 people," he said. "Anybody who wants to join, we'll find a place for them."