After hearing about the wildland fire Tom and I fought yesterday afternoon, I was asked tonight why I am on the volunteer fire department. Certainly it would be easier to say a prayer for the people fighting fires than it is to suit up. I was at a loss for words on how to articulate the why, and it's been on my mind all evening. I imagine the firefighters I know who serve in large departments have a whole host of reasons why they serve, and in large part they serve anonymously - the people they serve don't know them, nor do they know the people they serve, aside from the third graders who make the annual field trip to the fire station and close friends and family. I know I heard the sirens in Denver all the time, and aside for a few from Station Eight, I never knew who raced by in the trucks. (Station Eight responded to my accident and had the honor of flipping me of the asphalt of Colfax onto a board and asking me the pressing questions about the date and president.)
I was eager to join the Volunteer Fire Department when we moved to Miami. In a big ol' city, we had large departments of emergency responders. Here we call on our friends and neighbors, and I want to be the kind of friend or neighbor that is ready to serve. It doesn't mean staying home and praying for the firefighters is any less important, but I feel like this is something I can do right now. It might not always be that way.
Yesterday, despite my plans to go into town for produce and milk, I stuck around when the thunder and lightning got close - the potential for a lightning strike starting a fire certainly goes up in the situation. We "toned out" shortly after 3 pm, and it wasn't long after that Tom and I found ourselves hiking up the mesa towards the rimrock where the smoke was billowing up. Though initially Tom, another volunteer, and I were not sure how much we could do with strong winds shifting direction every couple of minutes, with another of our volunteers and four more reinforcements from a neighboring department arriving with chainsaws and the winds dying down, we were able to clear a fire line and contain the fire. This morning on our way to church, there was no smoke remaining, though it is entirely possible there were still spots in the black smoldering. While the state's largest wildland fire rages on in the Gila, this one took less than an acre, and no harm came to any one or any personal property. We give praise to God!
So why? If you asked me ten minutes after I started climbing yesterday afternoon, I might have said I wished I had gone for the groceries after all. It was a steep incline, and it felt like there was little we could do in one area before the wind turned the smoke on us. But as we worked as a team and started cutting the fire line, I felt proud and lucky to be in the company of the six men I worked alongside and the half a dozen men who provided support for us, who all came to do their part in protecting our community.
I have been privileged to find work in service/community building for the last dozen+ years. Anyone who knew me 20 years ago wouldn't guess this is where I would end up, but they probably wouldn't be surprised to learn I am still volunteering. Outside a metro area, the opportunity has just changed a little, and it is a privilege to get to serve my community in this way, too.
The answer I still can't articulate well sounds more like: it is a privilege to be allowed to serve my community in this way - I want to serve my community as a volunteer fire fighter. I still have a lot to learn, but I am lucky to be allowed to learn in the field. And I am grateful to the men I serve next to who help me to learn and who have my back.