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Oldtown Volunteer Fire Department

Volunteer firefighters are an essential part of many Kentucky communities. Kentucky Life talks with some of the volunteers from the Oldtown Fire Department.

Being a volunteer firefighter takes a special kind of dedication. That kind of commitment seems to run in the family for the men and women at the Oldtown Volunteer Fire Department in Greenup County.

George Easterly, treasurer and charter member of the fire department, said the department started back in 1983. “And I’ve been with the fire department ever since,” he said.

Fire Chief Raymond Martin said there isn’t enough tax base for a paid force. “A paid department has the advantage of a work schedule,” he said. “We don’t. We have to fit everything we do here with our daily lives, our families, our work.”

Martin said about 85 percent of fire departments in Kentucky rely at least in part on volunteers.

Firefighter Zac Riffe said his father was also a firefighter. “It runs in my family. My dad was a captain here, started working seven days a week. … Not everybody can do it.”

Martin said family members are a great asset to the department. “They’re used to working with each other as a family unit,” he said. “And we really all get along well together. It’s a great dynamic.”

Firefighter Missy Caudill said Oldtown has two sets of husband and wife. “I have two sons with me on the fire department,” she said.

Brittany Riley and her husband, Matt, volunteer together. “We all have other jobs; we all have families, but how we still come together and get everything done—it’s just pretty amazing to see,” she said. The same group isn’t available each time, but volunteers know each other and their roles, she said. Matt Riley said the two know each other’s limits and don’t worry about each other.

Caudill feels the same.“Whoever I respond with, I know that they have my back,” she said.

Martin said the volunteers undergo training and then are voted upon by the department. “As far as physical abilities go here, we’ve got a wide span,” he said. “We try to find the job that everyone’s suited for.”

Kentucky regulations require volunteers to have 150 hours of training, Martin said. “Training is my big thing,” he said, “because that 150 hours is a minimum standard. It doesn’t make you proficient in anything. That’ s why you need to keep on training, daily repetition, get your muscle memory up to where you actually know what you’re doing. Certifications are on paper. Skills are what we need in the real world.”

Bobby Meade said he volunteers to give back to his community. “I want to be a part of my community and help others,” he said. “There’s nothing worse than showing up to a home that’s burning and having a family out in their yard looking at their house burning. So you want to have it in your heart to be able to help others. And that’s why I do this.”

Deputy Chief Duayne King urges people to have working smoke detectors in their homes. “At least one. I don’t think there’s ever been too many smoke detectors in a house,” he said. “But at least one working smoke detector and a plan that will get everybody in your house out of the house at least two different ways. And a meeting place, so that when we show up on scene, you’re able to tell us beyond a shadow of a doubt, there’s four of us that live in the house and all four of us are standing here.

“And we can go ahead and fight the fire rather than look for the missing people.”

Meade said firefighters see some tough things. “I don’t know if I would want to do this for a job,” he said. “…The things you see as a volunteer firefighter—I don’t know if I would want to see that every day of my life.”

It can be emotional work, but the firefighters know they are needed. King recalled a fire years ago when he saved a baby. “I may be able to save another one,” he said, his voice breaking. “That’s why I’m here.”

This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2117, which originally aired on May 14, 2016. View the full episode here.