Most firefighters in North Dakota are not only choosing to protect and save people in their communities, but they’re doing it on their own time – and without pay.
Many of them do it as they balance a career, but for one man, he can’t seem to stray away from the life of a firefighter.
Stuart Hammer is the city fire inspector, a volunteer for Minot Rural Fire Department, and an emergency medical responder for Garrison Ambulance.
That’s a lot of time fighting and preventing emergencies – so I asked him and people like him why they do what they do.
“Friends like that don’t come around very often, but here we’ve got a whole group of them,” is how Hammer describes the relationship between first responders.
Fire calls at any given time, or any emergency does, at any given time.”
So when a call comes in at three in the morning, he’s one of many that may have to leave one family to go to work with another.
By day, he’s the city fire inspector.
But by night, his pager’s on for Minot Rural.
He said, “It’s a different angle on going out and preventing the fire before it happens and finding things that cause fires and helping people recognize that there are dangers that they weren’t aware of and helping them mitigate that before it even happens.”
Hammer is one of several volunteers that also work for the city department.
The city has 58 firefighters, keeping about 20 on staff at all times.
But a volunteer-based department doesn’t have that luxury.
One of the biggest challenges about the rural fire department isn’t necessarily finding volunteers – it’s more so about holding onto them.
Because many volunteers can’t always respond, Chief Rex Weltikol at Minot Rural said he tries to keep at least 40 volunteers on call at all times.
“A lot of guys move out of town because they’re in the air force or something like that,” said Weltikol.
Brandon-Lee Talaro could be one of those guys.
“I’m active duty military,” Talaro said, “so I truly believe in service to your country and growing up, I always learned that giving back to your community is the best way to serve or to offer your time.”
Even if it means responding to a call in the middle of the night, it’s people like them that make up 96 percent of firefighters in North Dakota.