Guest Commentary: Recognizing Ashland’s volunteer firemen
By Jeffrey Flournoy
I speculate most residents in the Ashland area have not thought much about fire protection in their community. You simply expect a fire truck to come racing to your home if ever needed, without much thought about who is on the fire-truck or how it really works behind the scene.
The good news is it works as expected; someone calls 9-1-1 and reports a fire, the fire department shows up and extinguishes the fire and then goes back to the fire station, ready for the next fire or other emergency.
Who the firefighters are, where they come from, or the processes used to make sure it all works is not important to most folks. However, you should know a little history about your fire department in Ashland, specifically its volunteer firefighters. The fire-station in Ashland is still served by volunteer firefighters. While this may change one day as the demands of the fire-service necessitate career staffing to provide the needed fire protection in Ashland, today the “Center of the Universe” remains protected by volunteers.
A volunteer firefighter is different from a career firefighter. Yes, both volunteer and career firefighters complete training, suppress fires, provide medical assistance, and the many other things firefighters do when needed. However, volunteer firefighters do this as volunteers. While the term volunteer generates thoughts of providing a service without compensation (which is true), there is so much more to being a volunteer firefighter.
Being a volunteer firefighter means you carry (almost always) a pager on your side to notify you of a fire. Being a volunteer firefighter means you go to work tired because you were awake all night on a fire. Being a volunteer firefighter means you get up from a meal your wife spent hours preparing to go help someone you do not know. Being a volunteer firefighter means many nights at the fire station (away from family) devoted to training to maintain the skills firefighters must have. Most individuals in society do not make these sacrifices for their community, even before mentioning the inherent dangers of being a firefighter. Volunteer firefighters die in the line of duty, helping those in need, just as career firefighters.
You should know there are individuals living in and around Ashland that have devoted thousands of hours to protecting Ashland from the ravages of fires and other emergencies. These folks are like everyone else living their lives each day; however, they also live their lives as volunteer firefighters.
It would take much more space to list all those who have served as volunteers in the Ashland Volunteer Fire Company, however you should know about one of these individuals who recently “retired” from being a volunteer firefighter in the Ashland Volunteer Fire Company. His name is Tim “Spud” Lloyd. In early August, Spud hung up his fire helmet after serving 35 years protecting Ashland and its surrounding communities. Spud was the type of firefighter you wanted on a fire scene. Not only was he a strong and aggressive firefighter, but also a leader. Throughout his career, he served in many leadership positions, including District Fire Chief, Assistant District Fire Chief, Captain, and even holding positions in the Fire Company such as Secretary. He also had a way of teaching and mentoring younger firefighters around the station. Joining the Ashland Volunteer Fire Company as a teenager, I can think of numerous lessons he taught me, both on and off the fire-scene. We often read articles and see television stories about career Fire Chiefs and other public safety leaders retiring after years of service (and this is good); however you rarely hear stories about people like Spud, that is, people who have given decades of service to their community as volunteer firefighters. You should know about people like Spud.
While I focus on Spud due to his recent retirement, it is also appropriate to mention Lawrence “Larry” Emerson, who continues to serve the Ashland Volunteer Fire Company as he has since the mid 1970s, and James “Rusty” Dempsey, who passed away suddenly last fall, after having served Ashland as a firefighter since the early 1970s. I have no doubt Rusty would still be chauffeuring the engine to fires today if he was still alive.
Volunteer firefighters have been protecting the Ashland community since 1890, and I am certain each generation in Ashland had individuals like Spud, Larry, and Rusty; those serving most of their lives as volunteer firefighters protecting the Ashland community. However, I can only provide a snapshot from the last several decades. Most volunteer firefighters simply “fade away” when their service or time ends, only to be remembered by those they served with; and for the most part, not even known by those in the communities they were protecting. To folks like Spud, Larry, Rusty and the other firefighters like them in the generations before, I say thank you. To all the volunteer firefighters protecting their communities today, I say thank you. To the folks in and around Ashland, I say, you should know about these volunteer firefighters and their service.
About the writer:
Jeffrey Flournoy is a past Ashland resident and former District Fire Chief of the Ashland Volunteer Fire Company. A resident of Exmore, Flournoy still occasionally volunteers with the department, where he has served since 1989.