Confehr: 911 calls like 9-11 at home

Friday, September 11, 2009

Today we remember men and women who perished eight years ago in terrorist attacks known as 9-11.

Otis Tolbert was a Navy intelligence officer on duty in the Pentagon. His father, an airline pilot, had to fly a jet back to California from somewhere over the Pacific. In the airport, he learned of his son's death after contemplating broadcast news reports.

The lieutenant commander's mother was at home in Brentwood. Within a year, I met her and she recalled her son had told her years before: "Freedom is not free."

From an intelligence officer's post at our nation's capitol, to the small fire hall at Farmington-Rich Creek, there are Americans who serve with little or no reward. They do so gladly. These are pursuits they enjoy. Being useful is their reward.

This week, we publicized Marshall County volunteer fire departments' fundraising program to raise money for what's called turnout gear.

It's a term New York City firefighters know. It's equipment to protect them from the heat of fire and blindness from smoke.

Like the civilian patriot who started the first counter attack against terrorists with the words "Let's roll," firefighters everywhere march into Hell for a heavenly cause.

So, when I get e-mails from people criticizing the response time of a volunteer fire department, I have two reactions. They need more information and I'm pleased to have the freedom to say what I like in this country.

The e-mailer complained there were nearly 20 minutes between his 911-call and the arrival of a fire responder at a garage apartment fire. That blaze threatened the main house that's still livable because of volunteers. There was no personal injury.

When a 911 operator sounds an alarm, as firefighter Jerry Reynolds told me, "Firefighters will leave a restaurant meal and a warm bed" to respond.

It may have been 20 minutes before the first firefighter got to that garage apartment fire, but volunteers had to stop what they were doing and, many of them, must get to a fire hall before a fire truck rolls.

That's the reason to have so many fire halls across the county. A new example is the Caney Spring Volunteer Fire Department that doesn't have a truck or a fire hall, yet. When they do, they'll be closer than other fire halls to many homes between Henry Horton State Park and Lewisburg. Creation of the department helps the Farmington-Rich Creek VFD. There will be mutual aid between departments.

It's good for the larger community. Lewisburg Fire Chief Larry Williams knows it. Reynolds compliments the city department for getting to a fire first because they both know the city will need help someday.

"We try to help them," Chief Williams told me. Of course, he was also talking about the fundraiser in Lewisburg Middle School starting at 6 p.m. on Sept. 26. "Wayne Blackwell will represent Lewisburg" in a talent contest.

"The stronger they are, the stronger we are," Williams said. "It's a chance for the Lewisburg Fire Department to give back."

Meanwhile, county budget committee members cut the "matching rural donation" from their budget proposal to avoid a property tax rate hike. In 2003-04, the appropriation was $3,000 to each rural department.

Now, because of hard times, firefighters must raise more on their own.

It's a reminder that, like freedom, personal security isn't free.

A week before the contest there's a hamburger and hot dog cookout at 5 p.m. at the Caney Springs Baptist Church Pavilion. The Sept. 19 fundraiser is for a volunteer department that's getting organized.