HOMER — At a time when volunteer fire departments across the county are struggling to stay afloat, the Homer Volunteer Fire Department continues to serve its community.
Newly appointed Chief Randy King, who has served the department for 22 years, said the department is looking forward. The 56-year-old all-volunteer department has 27 members.
With a new chief and assistant chief at the helm, and two newly acquired trucks to strengthen and energize the department’s firefighting capabilities, the department members sound enthusiastic when describing the status of their team.
The refurbished Young engine/rescue the department put into service last week will be used in rescue situations such as car wrecks, and as a backup engine to the department’s first engine.
King explained the new engine/rescue has a second set of rescue tools on board, which will be a help if the department’s first engine is on a mutual aid run or another run inside the district.
“With two sets of rescue tools we can be sure our own territory is covered if we have a mutual aid run,” King explained.
The new 2008 grass truck recently put into service replaced a 1979 model the department had used for years.
New Assistant Chief Allen Bash said the grass truck will be a help because the older model had finally begun to grow tired after many years of service.
“We felt it was time to upgrade,” he said.
Members of the entirely volunteer department have diverse careers outside the fire service. Bash, who has been with HFD for 29 years, is a truck driver for C.L. Richert in Mount Vernon. Lt. Marvin Haught is the pastor at Brandon Baptist Church.
King and his son, Tom, who was recently promoted to lieutenant, work for Ariel Corp. in Mount Vernon.
The chief said the generosity of employers such as his, who allow workers to leave at a moment’s notice to provide aid on a fire or EMS run, is deeply appreciated. It is essential to the success of a volunteer department, he said.
“That makes a world of difference in getting that truck out the door,” Randy King said. “That means everything.”
While family ties run deep on the department, with sons following fathers into the fire service and spouses serving together, the chief said new volunteers are always needed.
There are eight openings for volunteers. Bash said firefighters must be 18 years old, have a clean driving record, and live within a reasonable driving distance to the Homer firehouse.
“We pay for all the training,” Bash added.
“It takes a lot of time, but you are benefiting the community,” Bash said, adding the camaraderie of the department members is strong.
“We generally have a good time,” Bash said with a grin.
King said the community support of the department’s fundraisers is key to the purchase and maintenance of equipment. The chicken dinner held each summer, which draws hundreds of hungry supporters, raises much-needed dollars to keep the department running.
Bash said the new equipment was purchased without any new levy money. He said tight budgeting and fundraising made the new trucks possible.
Many of the members make fire and EMS runs, but King said some members work strictly EMS. The department has four paramedics and several EMTs. Last year, Homer FD responded to over 200 fire and EMS runs within its 45-square-mile fire district.
Bash said one of the challenges of emergency work in such a small community is personally knowing most of the people they are called on to assist.
“It is hard sometimes, because it’s people you know,” he said.
Haught agreed, but said the volunteers know their work makes a big difference and helps their community.
“It’s neighbor helping neighbor,” he said.