Volunteer fire companies are the heart of their communities, there to protect and serve

Somerset County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy George Nelson is also Captain of Lower Somerset County Ambulance and Rescue Squad. (Crisfield-Somerset County Times photo)

Somerset County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy George Nelson is also Captain of Lower Somerset County Ambulance and Rescue Squad. (Crisfield-Somerset County Times photo)

The Marion Fire Department, like all rural volunteer fire companies in Somerset County and across Maryland, is the heart of its community and that role was emphasized during these remarks by Somerset County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy George Nelson during Station 3’s annual awards banquet held March 28.

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The volunteer service, is kind of under attack. I truly believe that the state doesn’t want volunteers. I think EMS is proof of that and I think the fire system is coming.

Marion, a small company in a rural area, is a prime example of what we need and why we’ve got to have it. Look at yesterday [March 27, a fatality from a traffic accident]. If Marion fire company wasn’t here yesterday, or if Crisfield wasn’t here to back them up, and we had a regional paid fire company, maybe located in Westover, I don’t know, do we end up with two DOAs, right off the get-go ‘cause it takes so long to get here? I don’t know.

The volunteer fire service — this company, Crisfield, Princess Anne, you name all of them — it’s the center of the community. That’s where when the weather gets bad you come to the fire company. You bring your dogs here to get vaccinated. There’s everything at the fire company. People have bridal showers, baby showers, chicken barbeques, everything. It’s the center of the community. You take that away, and what have you got? You don’t have much.

The people in the community depend on you, and we’ve all got to realize that they are depending on us. You can’t pick and choose the calls that you go on, if you’re available, you need to come.

It’s up to us, to make sure that we’re getting the training that we need, that somehow we’re raising the money to buy new apparatus to get the job done. It doesn’t do you any good if you don’t have the equipment. People are going to die, anything can happen. [Look at] yesterday, God forbid. We’re lucky that we don’t have a horrendous crash on 413 every day. It’s a miracle that we don’t.

But the community has expectations, and we have to give it to them. They expect us to arrive quick, know what we’re doing when we get there, and we’ve got to train and we have to have the latest equipment. People in the community don’t want to hear excuses. They don’t want to hear you don’t have the money. If their loved one dies, they don’t want hear excuses. We don’t have any excuses. It’s up to us to keep it going. To make sure it’s the best it can be.

I think we’re at a stage in most of the fire companies that the core group that does just about everything is getting older. And it’s up to use to make sure that we’re bringing in the young people, and we’re training young people so that when we step away they keep it going. If we don’t do that, you’re not going to have it.

I’m not speaking for [the County Commissioners] but the county doesn’t have the money to run nine fire stations. There’s no way in this world. I don’t know how much money that would cost. I don’t even want to guess.

So it’s up to us, we’ve got to take the bull by the horn and keep it going. If we all just roll over and say “Eh, it don’t matter, it is what it is, or it’ll be what it’ll be,” it’s going to be bad.

So I encourage everybody, keep the training up, keep going to school, learn all you can. Step up, when the nominations come for officers or chief or president or whatever, go after these spots. Try to learn what you’ve got to do to keep this place running. [Chief Ray Johns] and his staff are only going to be here so long. You can’t do this for 10 years. Somebody else has got to be ready to take their place. The President [Robbie Purnell], it’s the same way. It’s a lot of work.

A fire company is no place for laziness. You’ve got to keep the young people going, keep the place evolving. It’s more than pretty dress uniforms, it’s more than shiny trucks, it’s more than looking cool with breathing apparatus on, or carrying an ax or pike pole. You’ve got to serve your community with the best well-trained people, and with top of the line equipment. It’s critical in this day and age.

You look at what’s happening, Manhattan, just two days ago [March 26, East Village apartment building] that massive explosion, and look at what’s happening all over the country.

Look at what’s happening in this county. We’ve had three firefighters get hurt in a month in a half. One in Princess Anne got knocked unconscious, one in Crisfield got burned and we had another one in Princess Anne that got burned. So anything can happen. And that wasn’t their fault, but we have to be trained to be able to go in and get them when they do go down. There’s a lot to it. We’ve got to be safe. We’ve got to protect.

I want to give this advice: It’s OK to be a hero, but don’t go looking to be one. If you go in looking to be a hero, to get your name in the paper, take unnecessary chances, you’re going to get hurt, and then somebody else has got to go in and get you. If you’re going to be a hero, it’ll happen. You don’t have to look to be one.

There’re just a couple things I want to leave the firefighters with, I don’t even know where I read it, but it kind of hit home to me. Think about it when you get a chance.

  • Never fight fire from ego.
  • Better a thousand times careful than once dead.
  • Let no man’s ghost return to say his training let him down.
  • Firefighting is one of the few professions left that makes house calls.
  • Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Think about that. Congratulations on another year, Marion Fire Company.

— Mr. Nelson is also Captain of the Lower Somerset County Ambulance and Rescue Service.

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