It is with sad irony that as the rest of the country celebrates National Volunteer Week, we mourn the deaths of 10 volunteer firefighters and emergency responders killed in the fertilizer-plant explosion in West, Texas.
Organizations across the country will host awards and recognition dinners for the individuals who donate their free time and energy for chosen causes, while President Obama and thousands of others will travel to Baylor University for a memorial service honoring Morris Bridges, 41; Perry Calvin, 37; Jerry Chapman, 26; Cody Dragoo, 50; Jimmy Matus, 52; Joey Pustejovsky; Cyrus Reed; Robert Snokhaus, 48; Doug Snokhaus, 50; Buck Uptmor, 40s; and Dallas Fire Capt. Kenny Harris, 52.
Volunteer firefighters make up more than 70% of the fire service in the United States. While that number is on the decline for many reasons, including the economy, large portions of the country stll depend on their neighbors to volunteer and come to their aid when needed.
One such volunteer is Nick Wilbur, a volunteer in College Park, Md., who I met last night in Indianapolis. Wilbur is one of 20-some college students who live above the fire station, go to school and volunteer in the fire department. He told me about training he receives at the department, as well as the variety of calls to which he responds — like a ricin incident at a post office last week.
Wilbur’s passion for being the best-trained firefighter — now as a volunteer and eventually as a career responder — really impressed me. There was another generation of firefighter, pursuing his dream of risking his life to help others.
Those who choose to volunteer not only donate their precious time, they take risks. If you volunteer in a hospital, you put yourself at risk. If you volunteer your time with scouting and are responsible for kids, you take a risk, but if you volunteer as a firefighter or emergency medical service personnel, you put your life at risk every time the pager or siren goes off.
Our deepest sympathies go out to the families and friends of the first responders in West, Texas. And to those who volunteer in their local fire departments, thank you for what you do and please, be safe.