Fire Call! Sounding the Alarm to Save our Vanishing Volunteers
“On a good day, our biggest fire truck carries a crew of five. Today is not a good day. It’s a weekday, the time when the fewest volunteers can respond to a fire call. We’re heading for a roaring house fire — where a woman is reported trapped — with a crew of two.” So begins “Fire Call!”, retired fire chief George DeVault’s memoir about his 30 action-packed years as a volunteer firefighter. When DeVault gets to the burning house, neighbors insist the woman is still inside. That’s a big problem. DeVault is the only firefighter in an air pack. The trapped woman is running out of time — and air. Should DeVault wait for backup? Or take a big chance and go inside the burning house to search for her — alone? What would you do? The action doesn’t stop there. It’s just beginning. On other harrowing fire calls, DeVault: — Almost falls through the floor and into a burning basement. — Plays hide-and-seek with a suicidal gunman inside a house the man set on fire. — Swims into a pond — in the middle of Hurricane Floyd — to rescue a man being sucked into a drain pipe. — Helps his community, especially the young children, deal with the grim reality of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. There is more, of course. Much more. Remember, this is a memoir — with a mission. The subtitle is, “sounding the alarm to save our vanishing volunteers.” “Fire Call!” is the story of an endangered species — America’s force of 783,300 volunteer firefighters, which between 1984 and 2012, shrank by 13 percent, while the number of emergency calls nearly tripled. Nationwide, experts predict we may soon have no volunteers in some parts of the country. “Sooner or later, somebody’s going to dial 911 … and the 911 center is going to dispatch a fire department, and nobody’s going to show up. That’s where we’re headed, Pennsylvania State Fire Commissioner Edward A. Mann testified before the state legislature in 2014. “The volunteer emergency services … is a tradition in danger of weakening and possibly even dying out,” the United States Fire Administration (USFA) reported back in 2004. “Many fire departments across the nation today are experiencing more difficulty with recruiting and retaining members than ever before. “The causes of the problems are similar in all 50 states,” said the USFA. “No single region of the country is dealing with problems that are significantly different than those found in other regions. “Fire departments can no longer count on the children of current members following in their parent’s footsteps. Nor can they count on a continuous stream of community people eager to donate their time and energy to their local volunteer fire department. Adding to the problem, departments cannot rely on members staying active in the volunteer fire service for long periods of time,” the USFA concluded. That should scare us all, because in 2014, fully 69 percent of our firefighters — seven out of every 10 firefighters — were volunteers. Together, they save American taxpayers an estimated $139.8 billion a year, not to mention countless lives. “Fire Call!” explains why, what it’s really like to be a volunteer firefighter, and what each and every one of us can do to help save our vanishing volunteers. The author has pledged a portion of the proceeds from “Fire Call!” to benefit volunteer firefighters around the country.