Answering the call

Oct 7, 2015 By Steven R. Peck

Notice our special Fire Week pages today, and salute our firefighters

In the early 1900s, when Riverton, Pavillion, Shoshoni, Dubois, Hudson, Thermopolis and other fledgling towns appeared along the new railroad lines and paved roads that were expanding through central Wyoming and the Big Horn Basin, the new communities all did the same thing as soon as they could.

They formed a fire department.

A fire department is one of the first things a new town did, because it was the last thing that town wanted to be without.

Generations later, that hasn't changed. Taken for granted in any settled community of any size is the presence of firefighting capability. From North Portal to New York City, there is firefighting equipment and people who not only know how to use it, but who pledge to their fellow citizens that they will come when called.

This is the week of the year when our newspaper concentrates an extra measure of attention on local firefighters. During National Fire Week we publish pages of information about Fremont County's volunteer fire departments and county battalions. Look for a headline on today's front page, and find the Fire Week pages beginning on page 12.

The newspaper is a good venue for recognizing firefighting, because firefighting is a big source of news. Our Fire Week pages are in today's edition, but we work with and around the fire department all year long. We listen for alarms, follow emergency radio traffic to learn the locations of fire calls, and often send a photographer to the fire scene. We follow up after the fact to find out what happened and what was done in response. We write news about fires and publish dozens of pictures each year showing the fire department in action. We call firefighters the next morning to get identifications for photos, and sometimes the fire department asks us for pictures we shoot at fire scenes.

What we notice in the course of our work is the unending energy and determination our firefighters bring to their task, regardless of the circumstances. Through the decades "call the fire department" has become the default response not only for unwanted fires but for any number of other occasions as well. When in doubt, it's the firefighters who are summoned. Consequently, they have expanded their training to cover contingencies their good-old-days counterparts never imagined. Today's volunteer firefighter engages in training, retraining and certification that rivals that seen at most full-time fire departments. Their duties are the same in their communities, as are the expectations placed upon them by the public.

Any longtime firefighter enjoys the camaraderie, fellowship, excitement, group participation and personal satisfaction that belonging to a volunteer fire department can provide. But there's a difference between the fire departments and the weekly lodge meeting, the church volunteer group or the softball team. These guys put life and limb on the line as well. The job is dangerous, exhausting and unpredictable. It involves moving into situations that other people have fled. Firefighters get hurt. Sometimes they die on duty --even when they are "just volunteers."

This year's local Fire Week observances are clouded by the continuing battle for recovery by Speed Hartbank, the rural county firefighter injured last month while working a fire scene west of Riverton. His crisis reminds us that while many fire calls are routine, danger can pounce anywhere, any time.

Fire departments need young men and women to fill and maintain their ranks. Please notice our special pages today. Read the news stories. Look at the faces of the people among us who answer the call, day or night, good weather and bad, work day or holiday. Consider joining them. Their commitment continues long after Fire Week ends.