Volunteer Firefighting: The Balancing Act
KENNEWICK, Wash. -- Volunteer firefighters are risking their lives on a regular basis to save people and homes. But many fight fires for free while also keeping up a full-time job and taking care of a family. Volunteer firefighter Ralph Wescott says that he has to stick to his family and work responsibilities, but that whenever he can, he will drop it all, to go fight a fire.
Last Saturday, Ralph Wescott was pulled away from his family, off to fight the wildfire near I-82 and Coffin Road. But Ralph says it is something he feels good about doing. He says, "It's a civic duty, a contribution to the community."
On a weekday, Ralph says making the choice between work and firefighting can be difficult but he always sides with work. He says, "It's not even a choice, if you have a project at work, you do your project at work ."
Benton County Captain Jeff Ripley says, "We tell volunteers when they sign up: to look at first their families, then their careers, and then third volunteerism."
Right now, about 90% of Benton County's work force is made up of volunteers and each has different time commitments with their work and their family.
Ripley says, "It really varies with the individual, on the demands they have at their regular work, and the ones they have with the fire service." During the week, Ralph Wescott works at PNNL with computers and he says if there is a large fire like last year's Columbia Complex Fire, he has to make arrangements beforehand.
Wescott says, "I had to check out ahead of time and make sure there were people there to step in for me."He says going to a fire also requires him taking vacation days, but he says volunteering is worth every minute of it. He says, "Once I got into it and saw what it did for people, I got hooked."