Volunteer Firefighting is Satisfying Way to Give Back to the Community

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By Rick Bunzel

When my pager went off, I was in the middle of cleaning up the dinner dishes. I got a shot of adrenaline as the Santa Clara dispatchers called for two engines, a truck, and the volunteer force to respond to a call about smoke coming from a house on this cool autumn evening. I quickly said goodbye to my wife and kids, and scrambled out the door.

I kept a close eye on the road as I drove to the scene because even volunteer firefighters need to yield to incoming emergency equipment. As I pulled onto the block where the house was located I could see all the neighbors standing on their driveways watching the firefighters at work.

I pulled on my protective pants, boots, coat and helmet and tried to size up the situation. Was a burnt pot on the stove or something more? The amount of smoke coming from the house told me this was not a little kitchen flare-up.

I jogged up the street to the first engine, asked the engineer what he needed, and was directed to hook up to the hydrant. Fire engines can be pretty thirsty so I grabbed two other volunteer firefighters and we pulled the fifth line to the hydrant several houses away. Other arriving volunteers were donning air packs and grabbing tools from the engines. Fortunately, the quick intervention of the "first in" crew limited damage to the kitchen and the fire was soon extinguished.

I was putting my gear back the trunk of my car after the clean-up when two neighbors came up to me and thanked me for saving their friend's house. I explained it was a team effort and that we all appreciated the kind words.

The Santa Clara Fire Department is unique in that it has 10 stations staffed with full-time paid personnel and a volunteer reserve force of 40-60 members. Volunteer firefighters receive the same training as the paid force and respond from their homes or businesses when available. Volunteers can also stay at the stations and perform all the same duties as paid personnel. Volunteers come from all walks of life -- high tech professionals, plumbers, doctors, teachers, metal workers and college students are just of few of the occupations of people who find the time to volunteer. Requirements for volunteer firefighting are residency in Santa Clara, ability to pass a physical agility test, and a valid driver's license.

Many people ask me why I am a volunteer firefighter. They want to know why volunteers are willing to put their lives on the line, and not even get paid for the risk. Some do it to prepare for a career in the fire service and others are motivated to give something back to the community. For me, it is the satisfaction of rushing to someone's urgent need, achieving a resolution, then going back to my everyday career in high tech. We are doing important work: saving a life, saving a neighbor's home, or rescuing someone from a precarious situation.

So, if you have a strong desire to help, and you believe you have what it takes to meet the challenges of volunteer firefighting, come to the Santa Clara Fire Department Headquarters and pick up an application or call 615-4900.
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