First to Respond
Would you race into a burning building — feeling the blistering heat all around you — to save the life of a complete stranger? The brave firefighters at Lewes-Rehoboth Fire Station No. 3 near Angola can all proudly answer yes to that question; and firefighting isn’t even their job. They are all volunteers willing to put themselves in harm’s way to protect the communities where they live and work.
To the average Delawarean, these selfless men and women are heroes. For volunteer firefighters, though, acts of heroism are just part of their daily routine. “In July, we were dispatched to a car accident — someone was trapped. On the way out of the station, they called us and said the car was on fire,” said longtime firefighter Warren Jones, a member of the Rehoboth Beach Volunteer Fire Company. “I was driving and when we pulled up you could see the car was wrapped around a tree, and the engine compartment was burning. The passenger was still alert, screaming, and the fire was spreading. We had firefighters from Rehoboth and Lewes with us. We rescued the guy and put the fire out just in time. He only had a few minutes left,” said Jones.
There are very few dull moments for Jones and the other firefighters. While Delaware Living was interviewing volunteers at the station, a woman stumbled in the door, suffering from chest pain and shortness of breath. The firefighters alerted paramedics and kept the woman calm before the medics arrived.
Station No. 3 is a joint venture between the Lewes Fire Department Inc. and the Rehoboth Beach Volunteer Fire Company. It is unique in that there are very few fire stations across the nation that are staffed by two different departments. The facility opened in 2003 and was built by both organizations to keep up with the ever-increasing number of fire calls in Delaware’s burgeoning coastal communities.
“Twenty-five years ago, we were only running about 250 fire calls per year. Now, we’re seeing 750. Ambulance calls used to be 1,500. Now there are 4,000 annually,” said Craig Stephens, president of the Lewes Fire Department Inc. There are five responding apparatus at the Station, including Tanker 86, which can hold 2,500 gallons of water. The tanker is needed in areas where fire hydrants are not available. The Station’s goal is to respond to all emergencies within six minutes — a huge challenge for an all-volunteer force.
Recruiting volunteer firefighters is also a challenge. “It’s a constant struggle to find enough people to volunteer. A lot has changed over the past 50 years. Everyone is working longer hours, no one has a lot of time off, and it’s made a big difference in who can volunteer,” said Stephens.
Those who do volunteer said they find the experience incredibly gratifying. Volunteers receive extensive specialized training, a small state pension, a tax break and perhaps, most important, a feeling of being part of something important.
“It’s incredibly rewarding — one of the best things you can do for your community. You really can make a difference. It’s also a stepping-stone for some for a career in emergency services,” said Jones, who has over 50 years of experience serving as a volunteer firefighter. No matter what the emergency, firefighters said Station No. 3 will continue to serve eastern Sussex County as it has for nearly two decades. Those interested in giving back to their communities are encouraged to contact their local fire department. Volunteers don’t just save lives and property, they become part of a huge
According to Stephens, “We all go to the beach together. We all go to parties together. We all go on vacation together. There’s a lot of camaraderie; this is a brotherhood.”