They could spend their spare time relaxing. That’s just not in their blood, but firefighting is.
The people at the Land O’ Lakes Volunteer Fire Department say they’re in it to give back, help the community and even to build careers.
“It’s a passion,” explained volunteer Rob Nicholson. “I’ve wanted to be a firefighter since I was 4 years old and my dad took me to a car fire.”
Nicholson became a firefighting Explorer, which is a coed program sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America, when he was 13. Now in his 30s, he continues to volunteer.
For volunteer Chief Gene Wright, firefighting has also been a life-long passion.
“It definitely is in your blood,” said the 65-year-old.
Wright’s been a firefighter for 48 years. In fact, he volunteered in his home state of New York, worked as a paid Pasco County Fire Rescue employee for years and even retired twice from the agency. The last time he retired as the training chief.
Even with all that time in, he just couldn’t stay away.
“I just enjoy it,” he said. “I’m not ready to give it up. I’m passing my knowledge onto these younger people.”
Volunteer Jared Kelly, 24, works a full-time job, but spends his days off manning the station and soaking up some of Wright’s knowledge. His passion for firefighting was sparked when he watched the movie “Ladder 49.” Then he heard about Pasco County Fire Rescue’s Explorer Post. He joined that at age 16, he said, and has been a full-fledged volunteer for several years.
At some point, he’d like to become a paid firefighter, as would Nicholson.
All three say there’s just something about being able to give back and help others that drives them.
“It’s a positive experience,” Nicholson said.
That experience is one that is to anyone 18 or up interested in volunteering. That “up” has no real limit, Wright said. Instead, it’s based on physical ability to do the job. Some volunteers within Pasco County are well into their 80s.
Volunteers must submit an application, undergo a background check and pass a physical, Wright said. After that, they are provided with training paid for by Pasco County. Volunteers take first responder courses and then firefighter I training. The latter course takes about 280 hours. If they want to go on, they can take EMT training, which is another 200-plus hours. Some even shoot for firefighter II certification from the state.
“It’s quite a commitment,” Wright said.
Volunteers are asked to commit to a minimum of eight hours a month at the station. Twelve hours a week is preferred since the Land O’ Lakes volunteer station has its own zone.
“We go out first,” Wright said.
Having volunteers available to assist is something Pasco County Fire Rescue Capt. David Patterson said is important.
“The Land O’ Lakes volunteers are actually operating a 24-hour (station),” he said. “They basically operate just like career people do. We appreciate all the hard work.”
The Land O’ Lakes Volunteer Fire Department has been in existence since 1969. The station at 21709 Hale Rd. was built by the community, Wright said, adding it's the only one that's still fully manned by volunteers.
For more information on becoming a volunteer, visit pascocountyfl.net or stop by the station around 6 p.m. every Wednesday night when training sessions are under way. Volunteer applications are available on the county's website.
Residents who are unable to volunteer, but want to help can make donations to the station. The volunteers no longer hold fundraisers, but the organization does accept community donations, Wright said.