In late May 2016 in Milford, Conn., half a dozen regular folks – volunteers, good Samaritans – pulled to the side of what locals call the Route 15 Connector, which links Interstate 95 to Route 15 (from Milford east, called the Wilbur Cross Parkway – The Merritt to the west), and among them they managed to pull two young women from a car that had crashed and caught fire.
On that day – May 23, 2016 – someone in the group managed to break the rear windshield to give the rescuers access to the inside of the car, someone crawled inside the already-burning car and, when they were overcome by smoke, they were backed up by others outside the car, who were able to pull the women out, according to the account on Patch and on the Facebook account of one of the men who participated.
It was a remarkable rescue, and almost certainly saved two young lives, but there was something very ordinary about it for the United States – and there is something the rescue shares with thousands of incidents across the country this year (and every year), such as one that happened on Aug. 4, 2016, about a dozen miles east of Hartford, Conn., when a home on East Street exploded and then collapsed around several members of a family.
This time, the volunteers first on the scene were trained and experienced – Vernon volunteer firefighters, who quickly learned from a family member in the backyard that there were people trapped in the collapsed building. The volunteer firefighters promptly put their own lives at risk and headed into the unstable rubble to find the four missing people and bring them to safety – literally digging with their hands through the wreckage of the home until they had found the four missing family members, including a 7-year-old boy.
“If we get there and there’s a chance of saving people … we take the chance and go in,” Vernon Assistant Fire Chief Stan Landry told The Hartford Courant.
In many incidents like these two, it is not unusual for volunteers to turn up in the United States to effect rescues that range from routine to extremely hazardous.
In fact, the NFPA – the National Fire Protection Association – estimates that of the 1,134,400 firefighters certified to serve in the U.S., nearly 70 percent – 788,250 – are volunteers. (It’s not clear in these NFPA figures whether the numbers include the many career firefighters who also serve as volunteers in their communities when they get home from work – but that, too, is remarkably common.)
The U.S. Fire Administration reports in its extensive “Census” that 6 out of 10 of Connecticut’s 251 registered fire departments are all volunteer, and nearly another quarter are mostly volunteer.
Given that in Connecticut it takes more than 150 hours training to reach the very first level of volunteer firefighter certification, and that first course costs about $1,000, the depth of investment in training and preparation is substantial.
For the record, the Vernon Fire Department (which rescued the rest of the family in the house collapse) was established in 1854, and reports they are “one of the largest all volunteer departments in … Connecticut, with members ranging in age from 14 to 70.” They “operate six engines, two tower ladders, two heavy rescues, three ambulances and multiple specialty trucks out of six stations.”
Here is a followup to the house explosion story.