2013-10-05 / News

New equipment, positive outlook for Austin volunteer firefighters


Austin Volunteer Fire Dept. Second Assistant Chief Joe Burgett wears some of the new gear the department recently bought (he’s holding an old set). He is flanked (from left) by fellow firefighters Mike Nelson, Chief Chase Cooney, Cody Reisinger and Third Assisstant Chief Nate Burgett. Austin Volunteer Fire Dept. Second Assistant Chief Joe Burgett wears some of the new gear the department recently bought (he’s holding an old set). He is flanked (from left) by fellow firefighters Mike Nelson, Chief Chase Cooney, Cody Reisinger and Third Assisstant Chief Nate Burgett. A lot has changed through the years at the Austin Volunteer Fire Dept.

Gone are the days when nearly every grown man in town volunteered to be the comunity’s first line of defense in virtually every fire, car crash, natural disaster or, well, any emergency.

“We’ve all heard the stories,” Chief Chase Cooney chuckled. “Everyone wanted to be here. It was the thing to do, even on a Friday and Saturday night,”

Cooney, his second assistant chief Joe Burgett, third assistant chief Nate Burgett and a handful of other volunteers got together recently to go through the new equipment they had purchased and the stories started rolling about what life is like as a volunteer firefighter in a small town, in a rural area, where a lot more emergency situations arise than most people want to believe.

“You do it because you care about the people who live here,” Cooney said. “They’re more than your neighbors. They’re your friends. And you wonder ‘if I don’t do it, who is going to.”

Joe Burgett concurred.

“It’s not an option,” he said. “It’s a job that has to be done by someone. We’re just like everyone else. We have families and jobs, but there’s something in us that calls us to it.”

Volunteers are difficult to come by in any endeavor, but even more so in firefighting and emergency response where training is a key element of the job.

“It’s not only the emergencies that demand your time,” Cooney said. “There’s training and a lot of people will shy away because of the training and the extra time.”

If finding volunteers is the most difficult challenge rural fire departments face, then securing the money to equip the force is the second— and perhaps those two could be flip flopped in the recent grant environment in Pennsylvania.

“Bottom line is the grant money isn’t there like it used to be,” Cooney explained. “So we gotta do more. We gotta raise more.”

And so they do. In fact, today the department is holding the sister event to its wildly popular 300 club. At 6:30 pm., they launch their first 250 club. Tickets were still available at press time. Call 647-5594 for availability.

They also “flip chickens” as they call it, often a couple times a month, in an effort to keep their equipment, particularly personal gear, up to date.

That’s what the packages were about as they gathered recently. They had just purchased six new complete sets of gear and had written a check for $13,000 to do so.

“The average person wouldn’t believe you if you told them how much some of this stuff costs,” Nate Burgett said. “I mean gloves are close to fifty bucks!”

It costs roughly $2,300 to equip a modern day firefighter with their essential gear, including helmets, a mask, a hood, boots, gloves and the most expensive— air packs and bottles.

“We’re fortunate because we did have the funds,” Cooney said. “But, we work hard for it and I think the community really appreciates that.”

The new equipment was purchased for AVFD officers. Their old equipment will be re-used, handed down to younger firefighters, those that are less likely to be directly in harm’s way during a fire or any other emergency.

Despite the challenges, the volunteers, in typical fashion, are optimistic for the future.

“We’re seeing young people take an interest,” Cooney said. “We’ll keep on keepin’ on and the community can rest assured we’ll be there when they need us.”

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