Whether it’s a car accident, house fire or health scare, it’s comforting to know in case of unthinkable emergency, life-saving help is only a phone call away. In our community, we have the Belgium Fire Department to thank for that expedient help.
“The satisfaction of knowing that you are the one your neighbor, friend, or stranger calls on in a time of need, and knowing that you were able to help them” is what First Assistant Chief Pat Wester feels is the best part of being a member of the Belgium Fire Department. “Every call we go on is someone having a bad day. We use our training to help get them through their difficulty.”
This selfless group of volunteers, led by Chief Dan Birenbaum, are equipped to handle everything from carbon monoxide issues to ice rescue, hazardous material operations, fire suppressions and vehicle accidents. Their EMS members can also care for health emergencies at a first responder level. 2018 was the Belgium Fire Department’s busiest year on record with a total of 236 calls- 58 for fire and 178 for EMS.
The Belgium Fire Department has been a staple of the community since its inception more than 100 years ago, in 1907. The first fire station was on Elevator Lane. It later moved to the building on Main Street currently used as a laundry mat, with the bell from the original station being transported to its permanent home on display at Community Park.
The department eventually outgrew that facility, and in 1979, moved to the current fire station at 195 Commerce Street.
The department works hard to stay up to date on equipment. Their recent delivery of a 2019 Ford F-350 truck will be useful for a variety of needs, including small structure fires, vehicle fires, dumpster fires, grass fires, among other things.
However, keeping its membership roster full continues to be a challenge.
According to Wester, the department should have a minimum of 40 members to run smoothly. It currently has 31. According to the 2017 National Fire Department Census, 92.6% of Wisconsin fire departments are either volunteer only or mostly volunteer-run. Yet, the number of volunteer fire fighters has dropped 12% between 1984 to 2014, and as many young people move away from rural areas and into big cities, the rural areas are hit hardest. In 2017, the 109-year old fire department in Batavia, Wisconsin closed its doors entirely, and many other rural areas are also noting struggles to fill their rosters.
The Belgium Fire Department is doing all it can to keep its organization sound. Tuesday, March 5th, 2019, from 4:30-6:30 pm, it is holding a Chili Cookoff and Membership Drive at the fire station. Residents of the Town and Village of Belgium are invited to come in, taste (and judge) some complimentary chili, and learn what the fire department is all about.
Realizing that volunteers come with different passions and available time to help, the Belgium Fire Department offers a variety of opportunities to be a part of their mission. It is just launching a reserve program for volunteers who want to help but do not have the time for schooling. Students can get involved as young as age 15 with the Explorer program, where they receive full fire gear, learn many skills shared by certified firefighters, and can attend training meetings and certain pre-determined calls. Upon hitting age 17, members can attend fire school, though you must be 18 to do live fire training and EMS schooling. Volunteers of all ages can choose whether their interests lie in firefighting or EMS.
Cost for schooling is not an issue. Fire schooling is free, and EMS training is reimbursed by the department upon successful completion. There are no on-call shifts for volunteers. All members are notified of all emergencies, and if you are available, you are asked to respond.
“It’s a very rewarding way to give back to your community,” says Wester. He also notes, “We train hard and work hard at a call, and are professional, but at the end of the day, we like to have a great time socializing, both at the station or at other events in the community. Many friendships have been made through the fire department.”
Details about the Chili Cookoff and Membership Drive can be found on the Belgium Fire Department Facebook Page. Potential volunteers are asked to send an email to email@example.com or call Wester at 920-980-2522.