They help fight fires, search for the lost and respond to a range of medical and disaster-related calls just like those who work full-time with Dawson County’s Fire and Emergency Services.
When it comes to DCFES, volunteers serve in key roles that are a part of the county’s overall public safety response.
“It really is a demanding job, but it's very rewarding, and I can honestly say Dawson County is a safer place because of the volunteers. It really does make a big impact,” said volunteer Lt. Dennis Fedoruk during a Jan. 12 recruiting event at Fire Station 7.
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Twelve volunteer applicants attended the recruiting event, along with a number of current volunteers and full-time fire and EMS employees.
Volunteer requirements include:
At least 18 years old
A high school diploma or G.E.D.
Valid driver’s license and driving record
Must live in Dawson County or live within 10 minutes of a Dawson County fire station
Passing all in-house testing and background check requirements
Obtaining basic fire and medical responder certifications within a year of one’s start date
Volunteers are compensated $16 per call to help with travel expenses associated with responding to emergencies. Applications are open through Jan. 17.
For full requirements and job information, you can go to the listing on the Dawson County government’s website.
“There are a lot of folks right outside of the county, but they can respond because they’re right on the county line,” DCFES volunteer coordinator and Capt. Randy Edwards said of interested recruits. “We don’t want to penalize them [and say no] because they're in Lumpkin, Pickens or Forsyth counties and they’re just five minutes over the line.”
Edwards added that the mixture of paid staff and 16 current volunteers “gives us a lot of flexibility and versatility” with their emergency responses.
More than a few full-timers got their start volunteering in departments like Dawson County’s, while other locals have traded or supplemented public safety careers with volunteering efforts.
Fire Chief Troy Leist shared his pleasant surprise at the turnout, given the challenge in finding volunteer recruits willing to complete training while also balancing full-time jobs or family life.
“Volunteerism, especially in the United States, has gone significantly down because of the time constraints…so to see so many people show up for something like this is fantastic,” Leist said.
The Jan. 12 open house served as an opportunity for potential recruits to talk with existing DCFES volunteers about what the time commitment is like.
Volunteer roles range from support firefighters who help retrieve equipment or supply more water during fires and firefighters that go into structures to quell blazes to emergency medical responders (EMRs), EMT basics, advanced EMTs or paramedics.
For many already involved, they may volunteer during shifts at one of the county’s fire stations, or they may go from their homes and respond directly to a scene.
With that dynamic, Edwards said that it helps to now have a phone app called Active911, the same call system that the full-time DCFES employees use.
“We get all the calls the career people get. We see the address and what’s going on,” Edwards said, pointing to various examples in the app, “and we can respond right away.”
Volunteers also get the same kind of in-person and online training as career first responders, with regular in-person classes occurring every other Thursday for about 2.5 hours, Edwards said.
Online training can include how to aide individuals with intellectual conditions such as autism
“For January, we’re learning, ‘What does autism look like? How do you identify [the condition] if there’s a problem going on and how you can de-escalate that?’” Edwards said.
He and the other volunteers may respond to typical fire and medical calls, or they may be deployed for disaster and search-and-rescue responses.
The extra “boots on the ground” can be especially helpful when searching for missing people in areas like Amicalola Falls, particularly if emergency crews are trying to get ahead of any concerning inclement weather.
“You need eyes and you need to cover ground, so the more people you have, the more ground you can cover in a search-and-rescue [operation],” Edwards added. “When they (people) go missing beyond a couple of hours, the area that they could be in increases.”
In that respect, they’ve also received training on locating people with conditions like dementia. Protocol covers where personnel should go to search in those scenarios, how to contain a person quickly to contribute to a positive conclusion.
“The successful outcomes are really based on that quick response,” Edwards added.
DCFES volunteers may also be spotted helping with education initiatives like the Mountain Moonshine Festival’s fire safety trailer, where volunteers taught children how to call 911, respond to a smoke alarm going off or have an emergency plan.
Fire and EMS volunteers also helped speak to Dawson County students at school campuses during October, which was Fire Safety Month.
Reasons to help
Lt. Dennis Fedoruk, his wife, Stephanie, and their two sons have all served as volunteer first responders in Dawson County. Dennis has served for about a decade, and Stephanie has served for about four years.
They’ve been on scene for fiery structure fires on the 4th of July and Father’s Day as well as multiple vehicle accidents. When they’re not helping quell flames or clean up debris, they may help console people shaken up from emergencies or act as point people ferrying supplies to medics trying to save a vehicle crash victim’s life.
“They just need help, like, ‘Go get me this,’ or , ‘Go get me that.” They don't have time to go to the truck to get that stuff,” Fedoruk said. “Even if we become runners, that’s life saving. It’s not always the one doing CPR. It's the one giving the needle, the stretcher or the bag.”
Volunteer firefighter Michaela Brauda has served with DCFES for between three to four years. She also works as a nurse for her full-time job.
Brauda was drawn to the volunteer role because she participated in the Explorer program for several years, and her father worked full time as a paramedic for Dawson County until recently retiring and swapping to a volunteer role.
“I’ve always kind of been around it all my life, so I just kind of was interested and pulled that way, and I always knew I wanted to go into healthcare,” Brauda said.
She accompanies others on fire trucks, many times for Fire Station 8, the same zone where her family lives and called the volunteer experience “fun” and “like a big family” with the time spent getting close to fellow crew members by eating meals, training and working together on calls.
For volunteer applicant James Allen, he said the deciding factor for him was the recent fatal house fire on Kelly Bridge Road, in southern Dawson County.
“The location was the biggest thing for me,” Allen said. “Somebody may not have been available that was closer, so they were depending on the career guys to come from further distances.”
Previously, Allen spent 13 years as a volunteer firefighter in Pickens County, a position he also wants to continue.
“By having more than one option [to volunteer], I can serve more than just my immediate area,” he added.
Fedoruk shared his gratitude for the additional fire stations and equipment DCFES has provided over the past 10 years as the county has grown.
“It’s great to have those tools,” said Fedoruk, “but it's even greater to have the people to work those tools so you can serve [other] people.”