Why Did You Volunteer?
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Why Did You Volunteer?

A Question For The Volunteer Firefighter Ready To Call It Quits

Why Did You Volunteer?

Why did you volunteer? This is the question I ponder in my head when I look at the resignation letter in my hands. A letter that took hours to write because writing through tears is a skill I have yet to master. I had convinced myself I was making the right decision though. My full-time job was taking a toll on my personal life which meant the volunteer firefighting duty of mine was the last thing I was focused on lately. Burnout was at an all-time high. I decided to ask myself a very important question before turning in the letter to my Chief. Why did you volunteer?

I recently finished Michael Perry's Population 485, for not the first time or the last time. While stepping into the past with him and getting a look at his perspective of the good old days, I realized those firefighters in that book volunteering for the very same organization I do today, they loved what they did. Imagine every single time the pager goes off, then imagine that you respond every single time it goes off, now imagine that it's not an inconvenience. It's just what you volunteered to do. That's what they did. They wanted to be here.

I turned in my application and my junior firefighter essay when I was sixteen, so I figured that would be a good place to start to find the why in why I wanted to be here. Although when I dug deeper, I realized I had to go back even further. Back to elementary school. Fire safety week. As a little kid, I couldn't tell you what I felt every year on fire safety day when my dad walked into the gymnasium with the rest of the guys on the fire department. I can't describe the feeling of watching your dad talk about something he loves so much to a crowd of your own peers. I can tell you though I was the giddiest child in the school that day every single year.

Fast forward to jr-high discussing careers in guidance. I remember that it wasn't even something I had to think about. Even back then I wanted to be on the fire department. Here is where I realized maybe there is not a why in why I wanted to be here, I just did. It was always a part of me. In high school, I spent nights and weekends at the fire hall helping roll hose and wash trucks. Because again; I wanted to be there. I went to fire camp every summer because I wanted to and before I knew it, I was sixteen and I was finally a volunteer firefighter. Because I wanted to be.

My favorite quote out of his entire book is the moment Mike realized this act of volunteering could kill him. "A thought presented itself, unbidden: You can die doing this." This quote gave me chills. I remember the very moment I had the same realization; in fact, I have flashbacks to this very day. Until you have that moment you might not know the answer to my question. I remembered mine though, I wanted to be here. That moment in my life didn't change that fact and neither would any amount of burnout I was feeling. I wanted to be here.

Why did you volunteer? Maybe your answer is as simple as mine. I volunteered because I wanted to. It made me happy. It made me feel proud and accomplished. It gave me new skills to learn and goals to work towards. It helped me conquer my fears; fears I didn't even know I had. It gave me a purpose. As I tossed my resignation letter in the trash bin I knew; I still wanted to be here.

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