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Answering the call: firefighters reflect on serving

There are three types of people in times of crisis, according to Glencoe Assistant Fire Chief Jamie Voigt: those who run from the disaster, those who can sit back and make life-saving tactical decisions, and those who will run headstrong into the flames. A fire department can utilize them all.
A diversity of firefighters is essential to a successful department. They typically have distinctive backgrounds from one another. Various job fields, life experiences, family and culture play a critical role in the effectiveness of a firefighting squad. It could mean something trivial, like finding that the department’s finances aren’t in order. It could also be the difference between saving a life or seeing one slip away.
Captain John VanDuynhoven and Lieutenant Jon Dahlke thought back to a time where experience and personal background aided ex-fire department member Scott Schrupp during a car fire. Less experienced department fighters were using a halligan — a multi-pronged, heavy-duty upgrade to the iconic firefighting ax — to try to pry open a fire-ridden vehicle’s hood to no avail. Schrupp, an experienced firefighter, grabbed the halligan, flipped it to the sharp side, punctured the hood with one heavy, calculated swing, and peeled it back.
“Every member contributes to answering the call,” Glencoe’s new Fire Chief Cory Schiedt explained. He replaced Ron Grack, who retired in February. Down to the cleaning crew that keeps the department in working order, and the families and employers that support members’ community safety investment, an efficient fire department wouldn’t be able to operate well without all of the pieces.
“If you don’t have the support at home …” or employer support, an already high-risk, challenging and life-threatening job can carry added baggage VanDuynhoven said, as Voigt, Dahlke and Scheidt nodded in agreement and added tidbits that reiterated the sentiment.
“I’ve gotten up from Thanksgiving dinner to go to a call,” VanDuynhoven said about a turkey-fire that abruptly ripped him from family holiday time. “Their commitment is just as big as ours,” he said about the added roles a firefighter’s family, especially a spouse, takes on in lieu of the firefighter.
Their commitment isn’t limited to the few times per month that a firefighter will physically go out on calls. It’s also the literally endless training, initial training, community leadership, required weekly hours at the department, and being on-call 24/7 — among other responsibilities. A family will take on those volunteer hours with the firefighter even though they aren’t physically with them at the calls or the department.
For more about the commitments involved in being a firefighter, see the June 27 print edition of The Chronicle.