ROCKVILLE, Md. — Christmas Day brought an experience like many other times of the year. On Friday inside the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department, service members are ready to go and help when an emergency comes up.
Volunteers sat inside, some enjoying the pastries dropped off by thankful residents, while others found ways to pass time between calls.
On holidays, the need for help may often be a medical emergency, or perhaps unattended cooking or candles leading to concerns inside a home.
No matter the occasion, the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department and other similar squads remain staffed and able to respond to anything.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, 67% of all firefighters in the country are volunteers. Furthermore, volunteer or mainly volunteer fire departments make up around 82% of all fire departments around the nation. But being volunteers doesn't spare them from the same risks as other first responders.
Rockville Volunteer Fire Department President Eric Bernard said the holiday still brought a strong focus on keeping things safe in the area.
"Being a volunteer firefighter on Christmas Day is no different than any other day," he said. "They’re expected to be on time and to stay their entire shift, which is up to 12 hours. They also run any type of emergency that would come in today.”
Like almost every other profession in 2020, volunteer firefighters have been greatly impacted by the pandemic.
In the spring, Bernard said around 30% of the nearly 200-person unit was unable to work due to sickness or concerns over being near positive cases.
However, as the fight against coronavirus has continued, he added that volunteers have fought through the issues to respond to emergencies.
"The emotional toll on our members is equivalent to what everybody is feeling, then multiply that by 10," he said on Friday. "We’re seeing the people. We’re seeing them face to face, mask to mask, and it’s been very difficult on us.”
Despite the challenges, Bernard said the number of volunteer firefighters in Rockville has increased 15% while applications have seen around a 25% jump this year.
Adding on to the hope for the team is the availability of a vaccine, which volunteer members may receive in the coming weeks.
"We know we will be getting vaccinated very soon. We are in constant contact with the department of health," Bernard said. "We are part of group 1A, so we will be some of the first ones to get it.”
In the meantime, Bernard said his team would remain ready to respond to emergencies in the area, even on holidays.
"It’s a passion. It’s a calling. We are just grateful to have the opportunity to serve," he said. "It is what gives us hope. Seeing the people and knowing that we are helping and making a difference.”