That’s the question most of us ask when we hear the sirens go off in Imperial. Later, when we discover what it was, we’re grateful – for a moment – that our fire department was able to take care of the problem, then we go about our business.
That’s not the case with members of the Imperial Volunteer Fire Department (IVFD). The problem is their business. They are always on the alert, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. And it’s a lot more than just fires.
Early in the evening of my interview with Assistant Fire Chief Dan Robinson and the Department’s Secretary Josh Burke, eleven firefighters had answered a rural call because of a carbon monoxide alarm. They also provide rope rescue – in case of a grain elevator or canyon accident – and they’re called out to accidents involving vehicles, which could include not only cars but trucks, tractors, earth movers, and heavy agricultural equipment. Divers provide lake and river rescue and recovery – in the wintertime, that becomes ice rescue. As Dan expressed it, “When the alarm goes off, someone has an emergency we need to tend to.”
Did you know? The white trucks are for rural calls, and the red ones are for city calls – with one exception: that huge red six-wheel-drive truck that was decommissioned by the U.S. Forestry Service. (All they paid for the truck was the transportation to Imperial.)
All the trucks and equipment – except for dive rescue equipment, which the Co-op stores – are housed at the fire station. The truck bay is crowded; it was built in the 1930s when trucks were much smaller.
A Crew with Distinction
Imperial has one of the few volunteer departments in the country that not only have a full complement of volunteers (35) but a waiting list. Josh once worked with a department in a small town near Lincoln who because of their call volume could have used 50 firemen, but they were lucky to keep 25.
Last month I was across the street from the station when we heard the sirens. Before the sirens had finished blaring, men were piling out of their vehicles in front of the station. Within seconds, a white truck was pulling out headed south. It was impressive. Even though the dispatcher learns all she can from the 9-1-1 call, “You never know until you get there exactly what the problem is or what extent,” said Dan.
And that’s why their training is so important. “When we first get on, it’s just the older guys that show us the ropes,” said Dan. “Then there are fire schools throughout the year, every couple of months.” Four or five of their men are about to finish a weekly, year-long training class in Grant.
The IVFD covers Chase County and part of Dundy County, one of the largest districts in the state. They are also part of two mutual aid associations which extend east to Cambridge and north to Arthur. Mutual aid associations also call on each other. “We’ve gone as far as Halsey, and up north of North Platte, north of Paxton,” said Josh.
How They’re Compensated
The members of our Volunteer Fire Department do not receive any financial compensation; firefighting is just who they are. But you can sure express your appreciation either in person – or by commenting on the Department’s Facebook page (@Imperialvolfiredept). Be generous when you receive a letter in the next few weeks asking for donations. It helps with their training and equipment purchases not covered by their budget. Also thank the employers who allow these men to leave their jobs at a moment’s notice, never knowing what to expect, but always willing to go wherever and for whatever reason we need them.