Greetings from the Goshen Fire Department

The following article written by Captain Bob Labrie appeared as a Guest Column in the September  17th edition of the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Imagine this. Your house is on fire. Somebody, quick! Call 911. Help is on the way, right?

The vast majority of western Massachusetts fire departments rely on volunteers. Unfortunately, the decreasing availability of such volunteers, and recent events in the region, highlight the need to amplify our regular calls for help.

Several weeks ago, a local volunteer fire department was dispatched to investigate an alarm at an apartment complex in their town. Details about what caused the device to activate were not available.

Our dispatches come out of the State Police barracks in Northampton. Officials there "re-tone" emergency personnel until there are sufficient numbers responding. In this instance, the call came during a weekday when volunteer firefighter coverage can best be described as light. As a result, a second
tone went out. The chief of the department radioed dispatch and said he would respond from Northampton, 20 minutes away.

Another firefighter who was in town notified dispatch they were responding to the station to get apparatus. A third tone was sent out since the response from the chief would be delayed, and one responder was not enough to cover the incident.

Within few minutes of the initial call, dispatch got back on the radio to inform the chief that a resident from the apartment complex had contacted them to say the alarm was likely triggered by smoke
from food cooking on a stove.

The dispatcher said the reporting party was "very disappointed" no one had arrived yet.

Today, radio transmissions like these can be accessed in a number of ways. Often, firefighters monitor their radios and pagers to know what's going on in their communities. In speaking with other firefighters about this call, I learned that several of us were getting ready to respond under our mutual aid agreements. In this instance, the reporting party would not have known that.

That's when it dawned on me. I was missing the point here. If people dialing 911 expect an almost instant response, we as a fire service weren't doing a good job explaining the challenges volunteer firefighters encounter when answering that call.

It isn't reasonable to assume that first responders sit at the station 24 hours a day waiting for the next alarm. We've often said the best time to have an emergency in the Hilltowns is on a Tuesday night. That's when most of the local departments get together to train.

Assuming we're not at our real jobs or attending to other tasks like mowing the lawn, doing grocery shopping, staining our deck, or taking care of the kids, we still have to get into our personal vehicles and drive to the station to get our equipment.

In the days of old, firefighters went directly to the station because, without our gear or tools, we weren't much help to anyone. Thanks to technology available today through our department-issued radios and pagers, we can know who's responding to the station and who's heading to the scene. This allows arriving units to share reports of what they see and instruct other responders to bring equipment more appropriate for the situation.

It takes me seven minutes to get to the Goshen fire station from my home. Once there, I still have to get into my turnout gear before jumping into the fire truck and responding. There are times when I've responded to a call wearing a tie because I was driving to or from work.

Last month, there was a drowning in Goshen at the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) State Forest. The call came in when our personnel were on standby duty at the Cummington Fair. For the past several years, a full crew has been stationed at the demolition derby with extrication and fire suppression equipment.

After hearing the first tone, the chief responded to the DAR from the fairgrounds, along with other personnel who were in town. A short time later, a second tone informed responders that there was a capsized canoe with a male party in the water, possibly drowning. While driving to the scene, a third tone went out asking for additional personnel to respond because there were three adults now in the water unable to swim.

This was one of those calls where we needed to ask neighboring fire departments for mutual aid due to its complexity.

Volunteer firefighters are mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, and brothers and sisters. We have jobs, families and other responsibilities to attend to just like most everyone else.

What sets us apart is our willingness to drop everything to answer that call for help.

Too many people have become passive and disengaged. Others have suggested that we're becoming a nation of spectators. This is one of the reasons volunteer fire departments are constantly asking for people to join their ranks.

Not everyone is cut out to be a firefighter. However, the more members on a department, the better the chances that we'll be able to respond quickly to your next emergency.

We are a proud group that gets great satisfaction from helping others. If you have a need to accomplish something important and grow as an individual, visit or contact your local volunteer fire department and let them know. You'll be happy you did.

The members of the Goshen Fire Department are committed to providing the best possible service to our Town with the tools and resources we have. Please consider joining our ranks. Stop at the firehouse on Tuesday nights at 7PM or contact any member for more information. The only cost involved is your time.

Susan M. Labrie, Chief