HANCOCK – Michigan started the year hot, even with a bitter upper peninsula cold. The number of house fires across the state has reached a record high. That’s only one problem, every department in the UP is set up by volunteers. Men and women who risk their lives to save people and property when a fire strikes. It can be a time commitment, but Henry Schmidt from Hancock’s fire department says it is all worth it to be involved in the community.
“On top of what everyone thinks of as the fire department’s duties of responding to fires, car accidents, and things like that. There’s a lot of volunteering to do in the community. We help out at the Christmas Walk downtown. We help at the fairgrounds during fair time, we volunteer to watch doors at hockey games. We do a lot of other volunteering in the community as well as a group. And I think that, joining a volunteer fire department is more than just being a firefighter. Though that is one of the biggest things. But additionally we do a lot of volunteering in the community as well.” – Henry Schmidt, Volunteer Hancock Fire Dept.
Volunteer firemen go through extensive training. Those classes are not cheap. Fire departments often want volunteers to get a little bit of experience, and an understanding of what goes into the job before starting classes. Ben Galetto subs with Hancock now, and spends time working around the department to prep trucks and hoses, and assists where he can in an emergency.
“My dad’s on it. And I’ve been around it my whole life. And I always thought it was something cool, and a good way to give back to the community. Before you take classes, you to become a full member with all your certifications. You can be a sub. And, yeah, you kinda do grunt work. But it’s more watch and learn. But the guys are really helpful, like from the full time members, you learn a lot. A big part of getting this experience, is you’ve got these guys who’ve been on a long time. And they’ve seen it, so when it finally does happen. They’re able to show us what to do. And it kinda build up from there.” – Ben Galetto, Sub Hancock Fire Dept.
Because fire departments in the Upper Peninsula are all volunteer based, recruiting and retention are consistent hurdles. Some of the department chiefs will tell you they aren’t getting any younger. That makes getting new, younger people involved a critical part of keeping local fire departments going. Schmidt said anyone who is interested in joining the fire department should stop by their local fire hall. And, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Every crew has members who are willing to help get a new volunteer started.
To get in contact with a local fire department, either stop by the hall in your town. Or inquire who to talk to from your township, village or city board. They can get you in contact with the best person to talk to about joining a volunteer crew. Firefighting in the Upper Peninsula is a tough task, and one that takes a lot of compassion and hard work. Crews do other things outside of saving homes though. You can often find a volunteers at community events working, or acting in the case of an emergency. And there’s plenty of fun to be had as well. As crews will compete among each other in association tournaments. Which are always a great time. Some say joining a fire department crew is just like joining new family.