By Carey Restino
When volunteer firefighter Barrett Moe first signed up as a volunteer responder with the Homer Volunteer Fire Department, he chose firefighting over becoming a medic because he wasn’t sure how he would feel in medical emergency situations. Would a car crash with seriously wounded people inside be too much? But as his experience as an emergency responder grew, he found quite the opposite.
“I found that when I’m in those situations, I don’t panic,” Moe said. “I am provided with the necessary skills so I know that I’m going to make a difference. It’s surprising how easy it is to stay calm.”
Moe and his brother Kiel signed up to work with the Homer Fire Department three years ago and Moe said he’s found the experience to be very rewarding.
“It’s one of the best ways to give back to our community, really,” he said.
An upcoming class offered through the department provides an opportunity for those living in the city of Homer who are interested in exploring volunteer service as an medic. Classes start Monday and run from 6-10 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays and 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Saturdays. The class will teach everything needed to begin responding on ambulance calls as an Emergency Medical Technician I.
Dan Miotke, captain and training officer with the Homer Volunteer Fire Department, said the department always needs new members to help spread the workload around. He said while volunteering is undoubtedly a commitment, many volunteers find involvement in the department rewarding.
“The root of this organization is that you get to have a direct impact in helping people in our community, sometimes at their worst times,” he said.
Volunteers are asked to respond to a portion of calls on a week on, week off basis, Miotke said. The department, which has both paid and volunteer responders, averages one and a half calls a day, the majority of which are medic calls. When volunteers are working, they are not expected to respond to calls, but during their off-time, they are asked to respond to a minimum of 40 percent of calls to stay active as a member.
The EMT-I training is free, but a one-year volunteer service commitment is asked of all who participate. The class is available for college credit and is a six-credit class through the University of Alaska Anchorage.
In addition to responding, volunteers are asked to participate in weekly meetings and occasional trainings to keep them current in their certification. All that adds up to a significant time commitment, Miotke noted.
“You have to be willing to sacrifice your life a bit to meet the obligations of the community,” he said. “That often means getting out of bed in the middle of the night when it’s not always convenient.”
That sacrifice is rewarded, volunteers say, with the knowledge that you are contributing in a positive way to the needs of your community, however.
“You have to give up quite a bit of your time, but in the end it’s definitely worth it,” Moe said.
Volunteers are not limited to the stereotypical image of the emergency responder often found in the media.
Volunteering with the department is structured so volunteers can contribute in a wide variety of ways, Moe noted. Walk onto any emergency scene in Homer and you will see that. Volunteers of all ages and experience levels are participating. Leaders in the department gain an understanding of where volunteers best serve the collaborative effort and assign them roles that best fit their skill set and interests, he said.
“It’s a huge team effort, especially when we do have bigger scenes,” Moe said. “Everyone takes their place. There’s a place for anybody in the department, whether it’s pulling hoses or getting energy back into the people fighting the fire in the rehab center.”
Miotke said anyone interested in becoming a volunteer can stop by the fire department building on Pioneer Avenue and pick up an application and a class syllabus. There is a quick interview process with candidates to make sure they are able to meet the commitments asked for by the department.
Moe said after several years of driving the ambulance and participating as a firefighter, he is signing up for this fall’s class to increase his skills and be able to help more on medic calls, which he already responds to as an ambulance driver. He said he encourages others to do the same.
“What keeps me going is I imagine myself in an emergency situation,” Moe said. “I hope that there’s going to be people with special skills that are able to help me.”
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