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Dawson County Fire recruiting volunteer firefighters
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Dawson County EMS personnel, volunteer firefighters and prospective volunteers gathered at Station 7 on Dec. 2 for an open house and information session about the county’s volunteer firefighter program. - photo by Erica Jones

Have you ever wondered what volunteer firefighters do and what goes into becoming one? During the Dawson County Fire Department’s recent volunteer firefighter open house event, anyone interested in it was invited to come to one of the county’s fire stations, meet the men and women who are volunteer firefighters for the county, and learn what is involved in the incredibly important job. 

Captain Randy Edwards, the volunteer coordinator for Dawson County Fire and Emergency Services, said that in the day-to-day life of a volunteer firefighter, he and the other volunteers can be found responding to many kinds of calls and helping with a myriad of tasks. 

“We do a lot of other stuff besides the search and rescue and the fires and the medical calls,” Edwards said. “We also help out the fire marshal with public safety and education, we help out at the Moonshine Festival, public safety and smoke detectors.” 

Volunteer firefighters are provided with the training necessary to do the job well, and can choose to advance as far as they want within the program. According to Edwards, this can range from filling the role of a support firefighter all the way up to moving on from the volunteer program to a career firefighter. 

“The first step is a support firefighter class which is about an 8-week class, and then after that people can decide if they wanna go to the next step but they can also stay as a support firefighter — they can go on and do as much as they want,” Edwards said. “We have a feeder program where we also feed folks out into the career side; so you can come try it out and we’ll provide the training and you can see if it’s something that you’re cut out for.” 

Barbara Roberts is a support firefighter who said that, while she doesn’t go directly into the fires herself, she serves the important role of helping out the ones who do. 

“Support firefighters go and help the firefighters; for instance they get parched from the fire and the heat so we’ll bring them water, switch out the air packs if they’re empty, or roll hoses at the end,” Roberts said. “You can start out as a support firefighter, and then there’s more training to be a volunteer firefighter, more training to move up to the next step, there’s always training to keep learning.” 

Edwards said that the volunteer firefighters are trained two times a month, and that they can respond to as many calls or work as many hours as they want to in their roles. 

“Most of us have full-time jobs and we have other things going on, so sometimes we respond from our house, sometimes we’re volunteering a shift at a station and we volunteer from there, sometimes we respond from the volunteer stations, or sometimes we’re in our car,” Edwards said. “So we have a lot of flexibility on riding at stations, working at the volunteer stations, or running calls from your home.” 

Currently there are 22 volunteer firefighters in the county, and two fire stations, Station 4 and Station 5, which are volunteer stations. Captain Denny Blackwell is the head of Station 5 and has been serving as a volunteer firefighter for 30 years. He said that he serves as a volunteer when he gets off work at his full-time job, and that he loves the ability to serve his community. 

“When the tones drop, we go to an EMA call, a car wreck, lost persons, wherever we’re needed,” Blackwell said. “My favorite part is serving my community and people that come to our county; we try to handle all the problems they have or wrecks or whatever.” 

Edwards said that the volunteer firefighters sign up for the program for a multitude of reasons, from wanting to help their community to wanting to push themselves to achieve goals. For the program’s newest volunteer firefighter, Justin Fedoruk, his decision to sign up was heavily influenced by his family and wanting to serve his county.

“My parents had been doing it for a long time so I’d been around it, my brother did it for a while, so it was interesting for me to be on the other side of how the county operates and how things happen,” Justin Fedoruk said. "I love this county and wanted to be a part of it in some way, so this is a way for me to be involved in it.” 

Currently, Justin Fedoruk and both of his parents, Dennis and Stephanie Fedoruk, serve as volunteer firefighters together. Dennis Fedoruk, who has served as a volunteer firefighter for nine years and is the lieutenant over the east volunteer district, said that the ability to serve their county as a family has been a huge blessing to him. 

“It’s something you can do with your family,” Dennis Fedoruk said, recounting a time several years ago when his whole family helped to fight a fire in their own neighborhood. “It helps the county, your whole family, friends, relatives, strangers — you never know.” 

For Stephanie Fedoruk, who has been serving in the role for five years, an added plus of the job has been the ability to push herself and to expand her limits. 

“I feel that it has expanded my interests; it wasn’t that I was out seeking to do this but I’m all about personal growth, getting out of my comfort zone, so that’s how I look at it,” Stephanie Fedoruk said. “It really teaches you survival skills and gets you thinking in a way that you wouldn’t normally think in normal, everyday life; you’re more geared toward situational awareness.” 

Charley Hogwood is a firefighter and EMT who is on staff at the Lumpkin County Fire Department and uses his spare time serving as a volunteer in Dawson County. Hogwood said that for him, the challenge and the chance to help other people in the worst and best times is a huge draw to the job. 

“If you really want to learn something and feel like you’re making a difference, if you wanna feel like you’re really helping somebody and waking up with a purpose every day, this is the way to do that,” Hogwood said. “If you’re looking for something a little challenging and interesting and you like to live on the edge this is for you; not to mention the fraternity and camaraderie of it if you want to be part of a family of people who will be there for you.” 

Currently, the county has a total of 22 volunteer firefighters in the program. According to Dawson County Fire Chief and EMA Director Danny Thompson, volunteer firefighters willing to help out the fire department are a very needed asset. 

“We’ve gotta have volunteers, cause volunteers in the fire service as a national thing is really down,” Thompson said. “With Dawson County being a combination department with both paid personnel and volunteers, they help supplement and augment and provide essential resources on fire grounds.” 

Thompson added that the training provided to the volunteers is a great way to prepare those who are interested in making a career of it. 

“The other part to that is we like to be able to have volunteers come in on that volunteer level, get some training and then become full time members of our department, so it’s a great training and recruitment tool for us as well,” Thompson said. 

To apply for the volunteer firefighter program, those interested must be at least 18 years old, a resident of Dawson County, have a clean driving record and be able to pass a background check. Open enrollment for prospective volunteers is every January, and applications can be found on the Dawson County Government website during the month of January. 

Edwards said that, in his time as a volunteer firefighter, he’s found the job to be more than worth the time and effort. 

“It’s very rewarding, particularly when you make a difference in someone's life,” Edwards said. “When we respond to a call, those people are having the worst day of their life, and being able to help them when they’re having a really bad day and a really bad time is really rewarding.” 

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