2011/365/023: Volunteer Valor

(Photo taken by Rus VanWestervelt)

“When you need us, we’ll be there.”

There’s a good chance that, just a few miles from your house, you have a group of men and women who are prepared to put their lives on the line for you at any time, on any day. They’re not getting paid for this courage, nor did anyone even ask them to “step up” and serve their community in ways most of us would never even consider.

It goes further beyond this, though. The men and women of the volunteer fire companies in and around Baltimore do more than just protect us and save lives, they give back to their communities in ways that strengthen relations and unity among its members. (What better proof of this than the photo above, taken last year at a birthday party my son attended at Providence VFC. Firefighters, as part of the celebration, provided education to the children about what firefighters do, how they save lives, and why they have to wear so much gear that, to some, makes them look very scary.)

My brother volunteered at Providence when he was just a teenager; it was where he got his start in fighting fire and saving lives. And as he served his community through the Baltimore County Fire Department for decades, he still went back to Providence to volunteer and offer his services to his community. Providence, like so many other volunteer stations around the county, serve as the center of their respective communities. Their relationship with the residents in the surrounding neighborhoods is often greater and more powerful than that of the schools or even the churches. Just ask Jen Descoteau of Towson.

On September 12, 2010, a pre-dawn fire started in Jen’s attached garage to her family home just behind Loch Raven High School in Towson. Providence was the first company on the scene and immediately took command of the call.

“As soon as they arrived, they determined if all humans were out of the house and began their assault on the fire,” recalls Jen. “We let them know our pets were still inside. They then did several sweeps of the second floor of the house looking for our bunny and two cats. Our cat Friskie was the last one out and was unconscious. They gave the cat oxygen and she regained consciousness.”

Providence carries oxygen on Truck 297 that is fitted with specialized feline oxygen masks. Not only did the firefighters take the lives of the Descoteau’s pets seriously, they immediately turned the rescue operation into an educational experience for the children by letting them take part in the life-saving procedures.

(Two photos above courtesy http://www.pvfc29.com.)

Once the fire was under control and the other stations were put into service, the Providence firefighters remained behind. Jen recalls how thorough they were in making sure they were taken care of.

“Lt. Fick gave us tips on what to do next. He escorted us through the house and explained certain procedures they used–why certain windows were broken or curtains were ripped from the windows. Then he walked us through to gather some personal items. He helped me dig through glass insulation, dry wall, and soot in the kids’ rooms to find their [belongings]. Before they left for the day, he gave us his number in case we had questions, asked if we needed assistance from Red Cross, and even offered us food if needed. We were in complete shock that day. Their guidance and reassurance truly meant the world to us.”

To most of us, what Lt. Fick and the other volunteers did would already be considered above and beyond the call of duty. However, Jen and her family received another visit from Providence the next day.

“We were at the house waiting for insurance and taking some pictures, and the Providence fire truck came back to check on us. A couple [of the firefighters] had been on duty the day before, and one man, Chris, reassured us and asked if we needed anything. Our son had stayed home that day since he was stil too worried to go to school. Chris gave him a ride around our neighborhood on the truck and let him ring the siren. He gave him a tour of the fire truck. This very small gesture meant the world to my son.”

The commitment to community that Providence provides runs deep all year round. In addition to maintaining six pieces of apparatus to suit the needs of the residential areas and large acreage of woods and brush, Providence holds birthday parties, child safety days, and even a Christmas Eve run with Santa and Ms. Claus. Children and parents alike line the streets of the surrounding neighborhoods, listening to the sounds of the sirens getting closer so they can get their chance to wave and say hello.

Providence’s presence in the community runs deep. According to the Providence website (www.pvfc29.com), this volunteer station was founded in 1947 “by a small group of residents who believed that service to their community was important and who were willing to give their time and talents to help their neighbors.” It’s good to know that, despite the ever-changing dynamics of society and the ease with which people move in and out of local communities, there is still one rock in the Towson/Loch Raven community that continues to provide stability, service, and protection to its residents just like they started doing nearly 65 years ago.

“What really blows my mind is that these men and women risk their lives daily for the safety of others,” says Jen. “They do it for free and in their spare time. I wish people understood it more. Providence depends mostly on donations. It just floors me how giving and selfless people can be. They are devoted, passionate, knowledgeable, and brave.”

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