Firefighters answer the call for service to community
By Katelyn Gendron
Reminder Assistant Editor
AGAWAM -- Being a call "volunteer" firefighter isn't a traditional, trapped inside a dank cubicle nine-to-five, neither is it a career as a full-time firefighter. Answering the call takes courage, dedication and training -- it's not Denis Leary's provocative "Rescue Me."
So why do these select few choose to run into a blazing inferno while others flee? Myriad reasons, which will be explained at the Fire Department's Open House on Oct. 4.
"I do it because I grew up with my dad doing it; it just seemed natural [to me]," Senior Lt. Mike Nicora of the call firefighters told Reminder Publications. "He did it for 40 years. It's just exciting when the pager goes off."
He noted the town's call firefighters average 250 calls annually, ranging from false alarms to working fires. Nicora said many call firefighters use their experience as training to become full-time members of the fire department.
Mayor Susan Dawson announced earlier this month that three full-time firefighter-paramedics were hired in order to bring the department "to full complement." She noted that full-time positions provide a cost savings of approximately $450,000 the town spent on overtime last fiscal year.
Deputy Fire Chief Alan Sirois said the new firefighter-paramedics are undergoing medical and psychological screenings as well as agility testing prior to instatement.
"We pride ourselves on having a high level of service -- our equipment is maintained and up to date [and we have] true professionals in the field," Sirois said.
Nicora explained the open house allows those interested in becoming call firefighters or full-time firefighter-paramedics to meet the staff, ask questions and gain tangible experience with the equipment.
"Commitment and dedication are the most important characteristics needed to be a call firefighter," he said. "Getting out of bed in the middle of the night or leaving a family party takes someone who is dedicated to his or her position."
Nicora added that being a call firefighter is also expensive. Volunteer or call firefighters are required to buy $500 pagers or portable radios for $750.
"Sometimes we are at the station for 15 minutes but other times we can be gone for hours," he explained of the job. "If we are not needed at the scene of a fire, we staff an engine and provide coverage for the town until the career force is back in service. During this time we can respond as first responders to medical calls or any other calls that come in. We also staff the dispatch desk: that means we answer the 911 phone, dispatch fire units and make needed phone calls."
Sirois said despite the rigors of the position, there's never a drought of applicants for full-time or call positions. He attributed the plethora of full-time position applicants to the generous benefits, training and job security.
Additional information about full-time or call firefighter positions may be obtained at the department's open house on Oct. 4 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or online at www.agawamcallfire.com