Herculaneum Fire Department

Rural Jefferson County, Missouri

When patronizing one of my favorite rural supply superstores, Buchheit in Herculaneum, Missouri, I spied a modern firehouse on a hill overlooking the area. On this day, many of the department’s support vehicles were displayed in the expansive concrete drive with the ever-present American flag keeping sentinel watch. Firehouses are traditionally places of refuge, sources of assistance and one is always welcomed entry, so I dropped in to meet our other men in blue.

   Herculaneum Fire Department   151 Riverview Plaza Drive

I was amazed to learn all these firefighters are volunteers. The City of Herculaneum has a contract with the Herculaneum Fire Department and supplies essential equipment – the beautiful, modern firehouse, trucks, and uniforms, but relies on heroes to supply unpaid manpower to maintain these supplies in tip-top condition and to respond to the residents needs. Even Chief Haggard is a volunteer. There is one paid full-time Emergency Medical Technician who responds to medical calls to assist the local tax-supported ambulance service. When this EMT is off-duty, qualified volunteers who live nearby are paged. They leave their warm dinners or their comfortable beds, rush to the firehouse, man the pumper and respond to help their neighbor.

Wall of turnout gear

Firefighters risk never returning to their families or attending that ball game or even their wedding just to ensure a stranger’s safety. If they survive, they face personal injury from other dangers – inhaling fuming asbestos in out-dated siding shingles and in the walls of old homes, volatile chemicals stored in basements and garages, furnaces which may explode, live electrical wiring which causes burns and shock to body organs and can stop a heart by interfering with the heart’s innate electrical system, smoke damage to the lungs, fractures from falls through weakened flooring, and sometimes crippling injuries. More risks are associated with water rescue and traffic accident and crime scenes and exposure to contagious diseases on medical calls.

Paid firefighters are no less heroes, but we at least can partially understand they are working at a career that supports them and their families, so they have incentive to charge into your flaming home. Still, they could have picked a different way to earn their living.

So, what of volunteer firefighters?

They face all of the above dangers without sole recompense for damage to their health, injuries or loss of life – other than personal policies they may carry. In many cases, they pay for their own training in Firefighter I and II and hold down day jobs to support themselves.

60 Years of Service -- "A Few Serving Many"

What does it take for a person to offer one’s own life and safety for the sake of another human being, and a stranger at that? Even those who do so cannot offer a precise answer to that question. I posed that query to several volunteer firefighters. To a man, the demeanor and response is the same. They shyly hang their heads, cast their glance away from me and then back again, smile slightly and say, “We just like it.” – such incredibly simple words to describe their motivation to risk everything for another person’s benefit. They shrug their shoulders and act like it is no big deal. But to outsiders, like me, it is a big deal – and a mystery.

You won’t meet them until you are faced with a crisis. Until that fateful day, you won’t know their faces if you are next to them at a service station or at your local farmer’s market. So what say you drop by the firehouse the next time you are out and spend a little time with them? They are very gracious and enjoy answering questions, showing off the equipment and filling you in on details unknown to you.

They stand ready to help you. Give them a boost and stop by. The least they can be paid is recognition and thanks. Both will go a very long way.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Margo Dill
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 20:34:04

    Very fitting post for today when we celebrate heroes and those who sacrifice their lives on a daily basis.

    Thank you for drawing our attention to it.


  2. annettecrey
    Sep 12, 2011 @ 00:11:50

    Volunteering for this kind of duty is not something we can easily understand. Thanking them is the easy part. — More to come on the Herculaneum Fire Department.


  3. Bill Haggard
    Sep 12, 2011 @ 10:30:18

    Thank You, Annette! Nice article! See you at the Jeffco Fire Engine Rally!


  4. abbyplambeck
    Sep 12, 2011 @ 11:03:48

    We went to our village’s safety fair this past weekend and learned that most of our firefighters are volunteer as well. It’s too easy to be awed by, or intimidated by the equipment and hesitate to approach these amazing people. Thank you for your courage in walking up to the firehouse doors and for telling their story!


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