Volunteer fire fighters get rush from responsibility

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 16, 2010

VIDALIA — When his pager goes off, a surge of adrenaline hits Concordia Fire District No. 2 Chief Nolen Cothren like a hammer to the face, sending his heart beating a million times a minute.

The calls the volunteer fire department gets may be for anything — an accident extrication, a full-fledged house fire or even to serve as traffic directors when there’s a hostage situation or drug bust.

“You jump in that truck and go, ready for anything,” he said. “No matter how long you’ve been doing it, you’re fully keyed the second you get that call. If on the way there they radio and tell you that the call’s canceled, at night there is no going back to sleep.”

This is the last in a four-part series about area volunteer firefighters and their contributions to surrounding communities.

That’s a feeling volunteer firefighter Shanda Kugler knows well after only a few months.

“You get a rush,” she said. “You know you are fixing to go do something important and help somebody.”

Being a volunteer firefighter means that you have to deal with a lot of people, and the public can react to firefighters in a lot of different ways.

Once, the fire district got a call that a woman in Ridgecrest who was wheelchair bound was trapped in her house, a fire consuming her kitchen.

At the time, U.S. 84 was down to single-lane traffic due to construction, and even though Cothren had the fire truck lit up and loud, the man in the car in front of him would not get over onto the shoulder.

“I had the lights and sirens going, and I was leaning on the horn, but he wouldn’t move,” Cothren said. “He flipped me off.”

The woman was safely removed from her house, but Cothren said he will always remember that driver.

“If I had wanted to, I could have gotten his license plate number and had him charged, but I was too worried about getting to that lady,” he said.

And the stories continue.

When people face the stress of a fire, they sometimes lash out at the closest people on the scene. Often, that’s the firefighters.

“People can cuss you,” Kugler said.

But people also show their gratitude, and Kugler said she’s been welcomed and thanked at the scene of a response.

Cothren said the good responses always outweigh the bad.

“When you have someone come up to you and shake your hand, thank you for what you’ve done, there’s not feeling like it,” he said. “It really makes it worthwhile.”

So on a normal day, the firefighters at the station may spend the morning maintaining the facilities, checking the equipment, checking to make sure the substations are in order, always waiting for that call.

And when that call comes, they crank the trucks, get their equipment, and go.

On Foster Mound Road in Adams County, Volunteer Fire Chief Eddie Ray said on a scale of one to 10, people treat his volunteers like they are 11s.

“When we are in town, people say, ‘I know you,’” Ray said. “I feel like we are appreciated 100 percent.”

Ray said the station holds an annual fundraiser at the station, and the crew uses the money to buy smoke detectors to hand out in the Morgantown Road area.

“When (volunteer) Charles (Messmer) and I go out and put out smoke detectors in the district, we are greeted warmly,” Ray said.

“People out in the district know that we when get the call, we roll out.”