My life as volunteer firefighter

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By REBECCA RIGAL

When you live in a small town like Medicine Lake, you’re primed to look at the whole — the whole town, the whole community. After all, there aren’t very many of us; we’ll take whatever we can get! But today, we’ll look at just one: me, Rebecca Rigal. My story — 1 in 200.

When I made the move to Montana eight years ago, it wasn’t to be a volunteer firefighter — it wasn’t even to be a Montanan. Like many, my job in the oilfield and road construction called, and so I followed. The thing about small towns, though, is once you get there, it’s hard to leave. After being in and out of the Medicine Lake community for years, I made a move — one that would have a greater impact on me than I could ever imagine. I sold my semitrucks, took a position at the Sheridan County Road Department, and became a permanent resident of Medicine Lake. Population: 240 + 1. And then it all began.

My transition to becoming a volunteer firefighter wasn’t quick or instantaneous, but more like bison crossing the road, slow and steady. It was a transition that was 25 years in the making, prepped by my volunteer work with the Red Cross in Germany and years of experience with tanker trucks — a learned skill I wasn’t sure would ever really translate. But after several conversations with the current fire chief, we decided it was time to turn my experience into an opportunity. An opportunity that would become one of the biggest blessings in my life.

After just one training at the fire department, it was clear that this was it: This was where I belonged. Though I worked long hours with my job at the road department, there was something about volunteering that just kept me wanting more. The fulfillment of donating my time, the integrity and sense of pride I gained in myself and for my community, and the belonging I felt — it all came from being a volunteer firefighter.

Fast forward 365 days, and here I stand as not just a firefighter, but a peer support team leader for the Medicine Lake Rural Fire Department. As a member of the peer support team, I have the privilege of providing emotional guidance and support during times of crisis to both our members and our community — a support system that is unique to our department and a job I take very seriously. Further, as just one of two females on the roster, I have the opportunity to serve as an influence to the many young women in our area. I get to be the voice telling them that “they can,” and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Though I take pride in what I do, at the end of the day, I am just an ordinary resident of a small town who woke up one day and said I can make a difference. Who said I can use my skills, my experiences, and my passion to help the community that I love. And isn’t that the story of so many of us? We all have unique skills and experiences. Some of us are great organizers, others are skilled drivers and compassionate caretakers. But we are all Montanans, and we are all responsible for our communities.

From one small-town resident to another, know that no matter your skill level, if you have the desire, you can make a difference in your community. And you can do so by volunteering at your local fire department. When you volunteer, you not only gain a position, you gain integrity. I may just be 1 of 200 people in a small rural town, but I have made an impact and you can, too. Visit mtvolunteer.org to fill out an application and learn more.

Rigal is a volunteer firefighter at the Medicine Lake Rural Fire Department and a full-time operator for the Sheridan County Road Department. She is trained in Stress First Aid and provides support to her colleagues as a peer support team leader during and after a crisis.

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