Volunteering to save lives: A photo essay

By Beck Diefenbach

A 911 call is made as smoke begins to billow out of the Taxpayer Building. A siren blasts in tandem with flashing lights as the enormous diesel powered Engine 61 roars up to the corner of Amber Street and Circle Drive.

Immediately three crew members of the Carroll Fire department jump down from the truck and begin to don their self-contained breathing apparatus and protective gear. With fire hose in tow, two of the volunteer firefighters climb a ladder to a second floor window, and enter the building. To protect themselves while extinguishing the flames, these two brave firefighters must hug the ground as they crawl through the burning building searching for any sign of life. This may have just been a training session, but the Carroll Fire Department takes all calls just as seriously.

“I wouldn’t do anything else right now,” said J.D. Liggett, a volunteer firefighter with the Carroll Fire Department at 1811 North Brownfield Road in Urbana, and a junior in Aviation at the University.

These training sessions are meant as a refresher and take place at the Illinois Fire Service Institute at 11 Gerty Drive in Champaign with mock buildings, high rises, trains and cars. Liggett says the training attempts to prepare firefighters for any condition possible from how to get the gear on to strategic tactics on fire suppression.

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    The Carroll Fire Department is different than that of the traditional fire department. First of all, this fire crew is comprised entirely of volunteers. These 21 men and women make an incredible obligation to the community while holding a full life outside of the fire department. These firefighters must juggle between careers, family lives, and their responsibility to fire safety. Six volunteers are even students either at the University or Parkland College.

    “Sometimes the call comes at the worst time, like if I have an exam. But I have my obligations, school comes first,” said Liggett on life as a student as well as a firefighter.

    This band of volunteers makes for a very unique atmosphere, one not expected from a fire department. The family-like attitude of this brotherhood stems outside of the fire house and burning buildings. Their recognizable yellow fire-trucks, a tradition for the Carroll Fire Department, can be seen driving down Green Street to stop for some late night snacks. On occasion the Carroll Fire Department can be found getting ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery, 505 E. Green St., on their way back from the training facility.

    “The people here are my dads and brothers,” said Kristine Jennings, senior in Biology on the family that is the Carroll Fire Department.

    Despite the casual attitude off the truck, when is comes to fire safety, this department gets serious.

    In live fire training scenarios, with anything possible from equipment malfunctions to smoke inhalation, the men and women of the Carroll Fire Department need to work fluidly if they hope to finish the job safely.

    “You have got to trust each other because of the business we are in,” Liggett said.

    These dangerous training sessions can sometimes become too real. With the rise of ‘struck by’s’ – when a service personnel is hit by on-coming traffic – the element of danger is always looming over a firefighters head.

    “With lane closures we can protect the crew and the scene. We really try to promote safe working conditions, especially on highways,” said Carroll Fire Department Chief Steve Thuney.

    Episodes like this are rare, but when they do occur they require immediate action. The regular refresher training reinforces the extensive skill and knowledge involved in being a firefighter. If it were not for the commitment made by these volunteer firefighters, Urbana and the surrounding community would be without the necessary safety provided by the Carroll Fire Department.

    Along with the dangers and risks involved with fire suppression, comes a great sense of honor. To be apart of the community as a citizen, a father, a daughter, or a student is one honor, but to volunteer to protect your community, like the Carroll Fire Department does, gives a great sense of pride unsurpassed.

    “We do it because we love it. It’s not about the pay, because there is none,” said Fire Chief Thuney on why he volunteers.