OVFD volunteers quell a fire that destroyed a home April 6 behind the Variety Store. Photo by John Ferrera

Across the nation, volunteer fire departments (VFD) are crucial, especially in isolated communities like Ocracoke.

According to the National Volunteer Fire Council, of the total 29,727 fire departments in the country, 19,762 are all-volunteer and 5,421 are mostly volunteer. In the United States, 70 percent of all firefighters are volunteers. That’s 814,850 men and women. Many of these VFD struggle to get a sufficient numbers of volunteers to handle fires and emergencies.

On Ocracoke, volunteer firefighters not only put out fires, as they did for two structures in the village on April 6 behind the Variety Store and most recently Nov. 29 at the Pirates Chest, but they also assist in medical emergencies with the EMS and for medevacs–when someone needs to be transported to a medical facility by helicopter. 

Ocracoke frequently has sustained high winds, and fires whipped by them, as we are witnessing in California, can cause catastrophes.  

In the two structure fires this year, volunteers were on the scenes within about 10 minutes and contained both fires in about a half hour. Without Ocracoke’s VFD, one would not want to speculate how serious these fires could have been. 

This year, 21 islanders met the state minimum requirement of training hours and a few are also medical responders to assist the EMS.

The community could use more volunteers. Since volunteers may miss an emergency for whatever reason a large cohort of volunteers assures the likelihood of successfully handling an emergency.

Fires, injuries, heart attacks and other emergencies are not on schedules.

Volunteers must be willing to respond immediately whenever possible as well as attend hours of required training.  Whenever feasible employers should permit volunteers to respond to emergencies.

Training meetings are bi-weekly on Thursdays at 7 p.m. and several weekend training sessions are scheduled off-season. 

The department also needs help keeping the station clean and organized; coordinating the Firemen’s Ball in the spring, paperwork and even grant writing.

An early morning fire of Dec. 27, 2014. Photo by Jackson Eiland

The work  of a volunteer firefighter is rewarding. Most notably, it provides a crucial public service.  It looks great on a resume and may impress prospective employers that this is a dedicated and reliable person worth considering hiring. OVFD welcomes junior firefighters (under age 18) who can learn important life skills. 

OVFD members are highly respected and appreciated by our community.

Ocracoke has been fortunate that major structure fires are rare, but when there is one, as many hands as can help are needed.  The more volunteers there are, the better the chances that catastrophes can be avoided.

We urge those interested to contact the fire department, 252 928-4692.

Point of disclosure: Peter Vankevich is on the editorial board of the Ocracoke Observer and is an OVFD volunteer.

The youngest OVFD firefighters are Grant Jackson and Hunter O’Neal. Photo: Peter Vankevich.
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