A family of volunteers

A family of volunteers

By Beck Diefenbach

Photos and Text By Beck Diefenbach, Photo editor

PART ONE: This two-part series, about the Carroll Fire Protection District, 1811 N. Brownfield Rd. in Urbana, attempts to display the courage and philanthropy of the family that is this fire protection district. This is a volunteer department in which many of its members are also students at the University.

It’s Sunday morning, and the station at the Carroll Fire Protection District is empty. Three engines sit ready and waiting for firemen to fill the seats. Fire retardant suits lay prepared on the floor, and helmets hang on the locker doors.

Only one thing is missing — the firefighters.

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These men and women are studying for exams, over-booked at work or taking their son out for Mexican food. These firefighters are volunteers. They volunteer their life for the protection of others.

“(Volunteering) affects your life greatly. The only reason why anyone does this is ’cause they like to do it,” said Volunteer firefighter J.D. Liggett, junior in Aviation at the University.

The Carroll District is located in Urbana, which places it as one of the closest volunteer departments to the University.

Because University students make up more than half of their active staff, this department relies heavily on constant recruitment. Carroll Fire is constantly attempting to attract new recruits since most of it members, students, can only volunteer for a few hours a week and for only a few years.

“School comes first, and the Chief knows that,” said Kristine Jennings, a volunteer firefighter and senior in LAS at the University, talking about Carroll Fire Chief Steve Thuney. “But I have left class before to go on a fire call, but that was my choice.”

Lt. Dave Piper, 34 of Urbana, has a full-time job as well a son.

“As a single parent, it’s really tough,” said Piper about being a volunteer firefighter.

On nights when he is taking care of his four-year-old son, Caleb, Piper is unable to join his department on fire calls.

Being a part of this special department does come with a sense pride and belonging. Each of these people give a tremendous amount of their own will power to be a part of such a group.

“Make sure you are doing it because you want to help people,” said Piper, as advice to new recruits for Carroll volunteer fire department. “No one here wants to be a hero.”

With training every Monday night, fire and medical calls throughout the week, Carroll firefighters tend to spend a lot of time together.

“It’s a brotherhood,” said firefighter Josh Haley, 24, of Urbana.

Birthdays are celebrated in the station, and the crew regularly goes out after training on Monday nights to bars in downtown Urbana. This past Sunday, they were bowling against other volunteer fire departments in a tournament for the Food for Families charity.

Just like any other family, when times aren’t so great, they still manage to look out for each other.

“Everybody takes care of each other,” said Jennings, recalling a time when Chief Thuney took her to the hospital when she was sick.

Piper expanded on the close relationship in the firehouse.

“You gotta look at these people as your buddies, your brothers and your sisters,” Piper said.

Much of the time bonding is spent outside of the station, and several of the firefighters live with each other. Jennings’ boyfriend, Jimmy Burgess, is even involved in the department as a non-active member, meaning he helps out when he can.

Along with life in the family of the Carroll Fire Protection District, these firefighters also have extreme experiences doing their job, especially when responding to fire and medical calls throughout the Carroll district.

Firefighter Icem Cook, 24 of Urbana, said that he doesn’t stress about what is going on in the burning building before he goes in.

“When I’m in the truck, I just make eye contact with my buddy, and we know what we were doing,” he said.

Liggett, who has been on the department for more than two years now, said heads tend to stay clear when the department responds to a call.

“It’s not gonna be a cakewalk, but to me, everything is worth it,” he said.


1. From left, Caleb, four years old, and his father Lt. Dave Piper has a laugh with firefighter Matt Tracy and Lt. Jeremy Delanty during a firefighter charity bowling tournament for “Food for Families” at Western Bowling Inc at 917 Francis Dr. in Champaign Sunday Dec. 3, 2006. “You gotta look at these people as your buddies, as you brothers and as your sisters,” said Piper.

2. Chief Thuney hands out glow-sticks to cub scouts of Pack 13 at the ‘Parade of Lights’ in downtown Champaign, Saturday Dec. 2, 2006. Defending their first place title in the float compettion last year, the CFPD built one of their fire engines into a rolling toy store and handed out toys and teddy bears throughout the parade. The CFPD won first place again this year.

3. Kristine Jennings walks past a display of all of the current members of the Carroll Fire Protection District at the station on Saturday Dec. 2, 2006. Despite the amount of portraits on the wall, the amount of volunteers who are capable of comming to the Monday trainings is substantially less.

4. Chief Steve Thuney, of Urbana, listens to his firemen explain themselves after a training ‘evolution’ in which the men practice in a live fire situation at the Illinois Fire Service Institute at 11 Gerty Drive in Champaign, Monday Oct. 30, 2006. “We definetly have a whole lot better training than other people have,” said firefighter J.D. Liggett, junior in Aviation.

5. Fireman Kristine Jennings walks into the Carroll Fire Protection District at 1811 N. Brownfield Road in Urbana, passing an American Flag covered vending machine, Monday Sept. 25, 2006.

6. From top, Firefighters JD Liggett, junior in Aviation, Matt ‘Lightbar’ Tracy (far left), of Urbana, Josh Haley, 24 of Urbana, and Kristine Jennings, senior in Biology, work together to fold the 5-inch hose back into CFPD’s Engine 61 following inspections at the hire station Monday, Sept. 25, 2006.

7. Mike Schamber, junior at Parkland College tries on his fireman helmet for the first time, Monday Nov. 13, 2006, since joining the CFPD this fall. The recruitment class for this year is much smaller than previous years as Schamber is one of only two new recruits.

8. Left, firemen Kristine Jennings, senior in Biology, and J.D. Ligget, senior in Aviation, rest up against the tires of CFPD Engine 62 at the fire house on Monday, Nov. 27, 2006. “J.D. is the brother I can laugh with, but he’ll look out for you in the end,” said Jennings.

9. Icem Cook, of Urbana, rides in the rear cabin of CFPD Engine 62 while in transit to the Fire Training Service Institute at 11 Gerty Dr. in Champaign, Monday, Oct. 16, 2006. “I don’t stress about it,” says Cook about the fear of firefighting, “there’s always a window I can jump out of.”

10. Matt ‘lightbar’ Tracy, of Urbana, rests in the bottom floor of the ‘tax payer building’ while his teammates practice live fire drills on the second floor, at the Illinois Fire Service Institute at 11 Gerty Dr. in Champaign.

11. One of the CFPD firemen brings equipment to and from Engine 62 during a down-pour at the Illinois Fire Service Institute on Monday Oct. 16, 2006. “[In the winter] you have to be careful about water freezing on your gloves.” says CFPD firefighter J.D. Liggett, junior in Aviation.

12. Captain Dave McDonough receives instruction from Chief Steve Thuney before running another training evolution, at the Illinois Fire Service Institute at 11 Gerty Dr. in Champaign, on Monday, Oct. 30, 2006.