Every week, Wednesday evening was devoted to training and work at the firehouse. As a minister, I found it difficult to give up Wednesday nights, which I had reserved for many years as “church night,” but my congregation no longer had any regular events planned for Wednesday nights, and several members of my congregation were involved in the volunteer fire and rescue services, so it made sense for me to join in their Wednesday evening activities. Besides, I desperately needed training, and I needed to do my share of the work.
As far as any definition of fellowship, mutual support, and service to others could be concerned, the crew at the firehouse measured up. They regularly responded to calls for aid, protected each other in threatening circumstances, and, for the most part, enjoyed their work and each other while doing it. Many times we could sense the exhaustion of one or more of the crew, and the difficulty of continuing to work into the evening after a full day’s work elsewhere, or an already hectic week of emergency calls. Still, our situation called for as much training as we could fit in, whether it was actual practice with our equipment, videos and accounts of events elsewhere, review of successes and failures in recent calls, or formal hours for certification.
Every fire engine and emergency vehicle had its idiosyncrasies, every new piece of equipment had its peculiar instructions for use and maintenance, and every individual had strengths and weaknesses that needed to be learned. Sometimes maintenance tasks consumed so much time that we had little time for instruction. We always had “on the job training,” but the citizens of our community took little comfort from earning that some of us were unprepared for the unique tasks we were facing in any particular call. Who had not used the “jaws of life?” Who had not performed CPR? Who had not operated the new engine #4? Who had not fought a chemical fire? Who could not drive the old manual transmission water tanker that required double shifting? That person would probably be called upon to do that very thing sometime during the next few weeks. We regularly received lessons in humility provided by difficult circumstances.
The few officers of that volunteer team proved their rank by the experience and leadership they provided. The rest of us knew each other by the work that we did and our performances under pressure. Our vocabularies, educational attainments, bank accounts, wardrobes, and possessions did not matter at all when the time for duty arrived. Only the capacity to respond counted for value.
Once in a while someone planned an event that was supposed to be a party or a recognition of our service. No one could imagine a more awkward or useless event. We partied when we gathered to work.
In some ways the volunteer fire and rescue service provided a model of what a church could be.