They are the courageous individuals who often go unnoticed, because they are just ordinary citizens. But ordinary becomes extraordinary when the alarm sounds and the call to leave their job or their family to rescue someone else’s home or business is given. In Cape Canaveral they have been responding to that call since 1962 when the Department was formed as an all-volunteer organization. Today the staff is made up of paid and volunteer personnel, but the call to duty, the call to protect, has never changed.
As the community has grown, the personnel and services of the department have grown as well. It now includes three stations and provides fire, emergency medical services, hazmat, confined space and also runs a training center (funded entirely by Port Authority) for local personnel, volunteers, and firefighters that come in on ships from the Port.
The Makeup of Volunteers
Throughout the U.S., 80 percent of firefighters are unpaid volunteers. However, in the State of Florida, that level of volunteer participation has become more difficult to achieve. Volunteers, like their paid counterparts, must go through numerous courses to receive certification through a local, state, or community college. Many aspiring career firemen volunteer as they wait for a job as they must keep up their standards by either going to more school or finding somewhere to volunteer.
At Canaveral Fire Rescue, there are 15 volunteers, five of which have been with the department for close to 20 years, and 35 paid personnel. They are people that aren’t waiting for a job or fulfilling requirements, they are engineers, business owners or work another job. For them, it’s how they give back to their community.
Volunteers must put 24 hours in at the station each month and come to training two nights a month. When Canaveral Fire Rescue Chief David Sargeant first started in 1987, there were eight people that lived at the station that were available every hour of every day. “Everyone that was a volunteer lived in the city back then. They would wait for a tone to go off, and then come to the station and get in a truck and go. Back then, we had 50 to 55 volunteers and one paid individual. You relied on them 24/7. But the calls grew; we used to run 500 calls per year, and now we run about 2,500.”
Other duties that both volunteers and paid personnel participate in include the annual Christmas parade, fire safety presentations and other events that take place in the city. “Nobody told me when I became chief that one of my main jobs was to make sure that Santa Claus made it to every street in one day, throughout the city and Port Canaveral. For all these years, we’ve done it; it’s actually a job,” said Chief Sargeant.
A Brand New Home
One of Canaveral Fire Rescue’s stations was recently demolished to make way for a new building. The original building was built for volunteers by volunteers, and had no sleeping quarters or business offices, along with other outdated features, making it difficult to operate at utmost efficiency.
The new building, built by W&J Construction, brings the station up to a higher standard. “Now, when the sirens go off, the lights come on to wake them up. The doors open up when you get to your truck, creating a quicker response time out of the building. You won’t find a better looking building in the city,” said Chief Sargeant. The three-bay 10,800-square-foot building also includes a kitchen, bunk room and exercise room.
“Every person – paid and volunteer – cares about the community; it’s their people,” said Chief Sargeant. “When they show up, their compassion shows. I’ve actually found out that our people have gone into homes of people that couldn’t do things, and then go back the next day and clean their house for them. They care, and the new station proves that the community cares, too.”