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More than a firefighter

Volunteer firefighters must be ready for all types of emergencies

Orient Fire Chief Mike Swanson shows the Jaws of Life, which are stored on one of the department's trucks, so they're ready to be used at the scene of car wrecks, and more.
Orient Fire Chief Mike Swanson shows the Jaws of Life, which are stored on one of the department's trucks, so they're ready to be used at the scene of car wrecks, and more.

Volunteer firefighters are on call 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 365 days per year. There’s hardly an occasion when these local heroes are able to escape the call of duty.

Even when a firefighter is in bed at night with their family safe and sound, if the pager sounds, that firefighter springs into action, possibly into harm’s way, helping whoever is in need in whatever situation. That may not mean it’s a fire they’re being called to fight.

While firefighting is certainly a part of the job of a volunteer firefighter, Orient Fire Chief Mike Swanson will tell you that only a fraction of the calls his department responds to are actual fires. Some calls are medical, others are car accidents.

“[When we get new members] we kind of explain to them what to expect. Every situation’s a little bit different. Things don’t always go the same when you’re out on a scene,” Swanson said. “You can go from a simple head injury to where we’re landing a helicopter on the highway and taking them to Des Moines. It goes anywhere, but you’ve gotta keep your head on straight because you can get hurt out there. Everyone’s gotta be safe when we’re out there and be aware. Especially on the highway, it can get pretty hectic.”

According to Swanson, roughly 80% of the calls the Orient Volunteer Fire Department is dispatched to are medical calls. The next 10% of calls are to car wrecks or farming accidents while another 10% are fire calls.

Orient firefighters have two nights they’re committed to as a group each month, one is a meeting and the other is training. During those training sessions, the department is not unlike other departments in the area in that they train for many of the different types of situations they’re called into.

“We just acquired the Jaws of Life last year and we had never had them before, so we’ve been doing a lot of training with that, cutting up old cars down here,” Swanson said. “We’ve been working with our grain bin rescue equipment, which we acquired a couple of years ago. We’ve gotten some other specific rescue items now. We also review medical stuff a lot and also do a lot with fire. We try to go out and pump with the trucks as much as we can.”

Fire Prevention Week

October 6 to 14 is Fire Prevention Week. While it’s a good time to pay tribute to the men and women who respond to many types of emergencies at any time of the day and night, it’s really, historically, the time when those in the fire service take time out to educate the public on fire prevention and safety measures.

Swanson said this year’s Fire Prevention Week theme is “Not Every Hero Wears a Cape. Plan and Practice Your Escape.” Going with that, Swanson recommends families practice what he calls “Operation E.D.I.T.H.” which stands for Exit Drills in the Home.

“You hear your smoke alarm go off and you’re supposed to stay low [close to the floor]. You’re supposed to touch your door, and if it’s hot, don’t go out. Some of it for the kids we go see at the school is that when we’re dressed up, they don’t know who we are,” Swanson explained. “The preschoolers actually come up to the station this week. We get all geared up, show them the thermal imaging camera and show them what we look like so they know what they need to do. I encourage families to do Operation E.D.I.T.H. You sit down, see how your house is laid out and you plan an exit drill.”

Being a firefighter

Swanson says the reason he and most all firefighters sign up to volunteer isn’t for the fame, it’s to help people.

“You hate to see someone lose so much, but that’s what we’re here for: to help people. It does make you feel good to help but you hate to see a family lose where they live and lose all their belongings,” Swanson said. “I guarantee you that all of us, and those around the county, we do it because we want to do it, not because you want to be the star. It’s not about that, it’s that you want to help people.”

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