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What if no one came?

April 9, 2015
Lake Placid News

To the editor:

I came home from a fire department training last night and thought all night long about what if we have a full-blown disaster in our little town. It's not that we don't have a fire department full of willing members who train many times per month, up to three times a month. (Ambulance, fire and backcountry rescue trainings are offered each month.) It's the ability part. We are a department of volunteers whose average age is 50-plus. Many of those volunteers have been in the department since they were 16-year-old kids. When I look around at the active members, I see 40 years of experience in each of them and count on them in all cases for guidance. I am their age but didn't get into the fire and EMS service until I was 45 with my then-16-year-old son. So many of us during this training were reminding the other members now, "I had back surgery six months ago," "I have bad knees and can't crawl into a confined space," and "I'm getting too old to be an interior firefighter" - but we did it, and we know that if that call comes out, we will push ourselves beyond our limits to help our fellow man. We are willing and able, with caution!

Many of us, come daylight, head out of town to work. Some are retired after putting many years at a job and as a volunteer but are almost always there to help. (So much for being retired.) Some are unable to leave work because around here, businesses are small and you may be the only worker. Some are students heading to school and may not be able to leave. Believe me, we discuss this issue all the time at meetings. Many neighboring departments are becoming paid agencies, including our Keene partners. Having paid personnel assures the community someone will be there when 911 is called. That process is complicated and time-consuming, and many of us old-fashioned thinkers still are doing this to help our neighbors because we know it could be us on the other end one day.

It is a fairly new requirement that we have an available EMS staff 24/7. But we're volunteers! No matter - so we sign up for shifts. When I'm not at work or not doing something with my family, I am on call. On my days off, I sign up for the whole day. On work days I'm available overnight. If we had high call volume, my "volunteer" days would be numbered. Please don't give me a pat on the back and tell me it's a thankless job - step up! I joined after the events of 9/11. I am a 12-year veteran of the fire and EMS service - a youngster in service years - but I am a 58-year-old grandmother of five. Last year at a bailout training - my last bailout training - I had a wake-up call. I was slightly injured. I thought, how would I feel if a 58-year-old, gray-haired woman came to rescue me? How about someone younger, stronger, but with the same drive and commitment?

So, this is not MY plea - it is a plea for all the fire department members who have and continue to answer the call of duty who are willing but not always able!

Saturday, April 25 is National Recruitment and Retention Day. Plan to visit your local fire department and find out how to get involved so that we never have to ask, "What if no one comes?"

Bethany E. Pelkey

Keene Valley



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