theParklander

Volunteer firefighters helping neighbors in Plantation
By Bill Johnson / November 1, 2016

For Aston Bright, it was a lazy Saturday afternoon in June, lying on the couch watching television when his pager came alive. About 10 minutes later he was holding the nozzle of a fire hose to douse 15-foot flames leaping from a burning automobile. With him at that time were Jeff Weinstein, Jon Hershey, and Heather Short - all volunteers.

A 44-year-old pharmaceutical sales representative, Bright is one of 190 active volunteer firefighters who serve the people of Plantation. Typically, he responds to 30 to 40 calls a month. But there's more to it than that. In Plantation, volunteer firefighting is serious business. "The commitment they make is tremendous," said Battalion Chief and Public Information Officer Joel Gordon. "They're trained to help the career firefighters in every aspect of fire and rescue." All volunteers go through training required by the state. It takes about six months to complete 214 hours of training in sessions that take place two nights a week and weekends. Bright earned an MBA at Florida Atlantic University and said the firefighter training was harder.
Firefighters
The volunteers include people of all ages and occupations, including many students. Heather Short is a 25-year-old waitress who joined in 2013. She answer alarms at any time she's not at her job, and almost every day she responds to more than one call. Most calls are not for fires, but for auto accidents or to assist emergency medical services, she said. Bright joined the department two years ago for a simple reason. At this point in his life he wanted the chance to help people directly. "It's the best thing I ever did," he said. Short wanted to serve the community she loves, and never expects to leave. "Of course, there's some risk involved," she said. "The benefit outweighs the risk."

There are incentives and benefits for volunteers to compensate for the training and time commitment. They acquire professional training, state certification, can attend state and national fire academies, and attend conferences at no cost to them. They also receive seven dollars for each call they respond to. Those who stay can participate in the state retirement system. They can be vested after seven years, fully vested after 10 years, and draw a pension after 25 years. The experience also builds lifelong relationships. There is truly a brotherhood among firefighters of every community. To Joel Gordon, the most important motivation of all is community spirit, "neighbors helping neighbors. The department expects to respond to about 11,000 calls a year, about 8,000 rescue or emergency medical calls, and about 3,000 calls for fires.

The department's excellent reputation is evidence of the volunteer's effectiveness. The Insurance Service Office, which rates fire departments to help establish insurance rates, ranks Plantation high among fire departments in the nation. As the largest volunteer department in South Florida, Plantation seems unusual. But Joel Gordon points out the vast majority of firefighters in the nation are volunteers. The tradition began in 1736 when Benjamin Franklin created the first organized volunteer department in Philadelphia.

To help support the Plantation department, on November 6th, a barbecue will be in Pine Island Park. It is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the department; at least 4,000 pounds of chicken and ribs will be served. Families will enjoy games, music, raffles, and entertainment.

You can be sure that on that day, or any other, if flames break out somewhere, or someone needs emergency help, well-trained volunteers will drop what they're doing, and rush to help their neighbors. That's what it's about in Plantation: neighbors helping neighbors.

If You Go
Plantation Volunteer Fire Association 60th Annual BBQ
Noon to 5pm
November 6th
Pine Island Park, 300 South Pine Island Road, Plantation
Visit plantation.org




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