One lighting strike and there it was — my livelihood was on fire. I’ve been a volunteer firefighter for 16 years and a rancher for, well, my entire life. On this day, though, the day the family ranch caught on fire, I was not one or the other, but both. A rancher concerned for my land, I felt a sense of panic. A volunteer firefighter, I did what I always do — answered the call. After a mentally and physically exhausting day, the fire began to dwindle and eventually came to a stop. It’s a day I will never forget. Not just because it was my land that caught fire this time, but because it was my team that fought to put it out. I will be forever grateful for my fellow firefighters and their effort to save my grass.
I have fought many fires in my years. Small fires, big fires, land fires, house fires — none of them fully prepared me for that day. As a firefighter, we go through endless training. We repeatedly learn what to do and how to quickly do it. So much so, that when you get the call, you don’t think twice about it. You put on the gear and go. That day, though, was different. For the first time, it wasn’t me running to put out fires for other people, it was other people running to put out fires for me. Within seconds, I went from being the hero to witnessing the heroes. And let me tell you, it was a privilege. I am honored to be a volunteer firefighter and to be a part of a team that fights for not only its community, but for one another. And you can be, too.
Montana has roughly 435 fire departments in the state. Of those, more than 400 rely on volunteers. In a mostly rural area like Montana, an increase of volunteers means a direct decrease in response time. The more people on a roster, the better chance a fire department has of leaving the fire hall in a timely manner with a fully staffed truck. Whether you live in the city, on the outskirts of town, or off a backcountry road, volunteers are needed.
Though a firefighter myself, not all volunteers have to face the flames. Volunteer fire departments across the state are also in need of EMTs and support staff. No matter your skill level, if you have the desire to give back and the time to commit, there is a spot for you. As a volunteer, you will receive all the training and certifications you need once on site.
Giving back to my community as a volunteer firefighter has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have been a part of. When you volunteer, you not only gain a position, you gain a family. A family that goes to fight for you no matter the circumstance. The day the ranch caught fire is the day I went from being a hero to being a witness. Today is the day you can go from being a witness to being a hero. Visit mtvolunteer.org to fill out an application and learn more.
Kleinjan has been involved with a local fire department for the past 16 years. He is a volunteer at the Chinook Volunteer Fire Department and a full-time rancher.