It is 2:50 in the morning and sleep is interrupted by the sound of a high-pitched, rapid-fire, tone. It is one of hundred’s of thousand’s of such awakenings that occurred today and yesterday and likely, tomorrow, too.
Like the rest of his family of firefighters in the Caldwell community, and the hundred’s of thousand’s of firefighters who will rise to answer another call, Chief Brad Allison of the Caldwell Fire Department, leaves his bed for the call, the need, and his community.
It is here in Caldwell, the sewn-tight community with a flashing red light at the intersection of 57 and Guess Road, that life and property protection, is delivered from the all-volunteer fire department, affectionately known as Caldwell. The department is one of three remaining all-volunteer fire departments in Orange County (Efland and Cedar Grove being the other two all-volunteer departments) whose members voluntarily answer calls for help and need at 2:50 in the morning and other inconvenient times throughout the course of a day.
“We are really fortunate. Not lucky, but fortunate, and I mean that,” said Allison, who at 34 years of age, is only the fourth chief of this department (Larry Johnson was the first, Bryant Walker the second, and Andy Gates served as chief prior to Allison).
For Allison, an enthusiastic father of two boys and career firefighter in a neighboring county, serving as chief of the local fire department is and has always been his goal. “I joined on my own at the age of 14 years of age as a junior firefighter and I have served in every position in the department,” Allison said.
Established on Dec. 12, 1977, and being formally operational on June 5, 1980, the Caldwell Fire Department was also the first department in the county to function as first responders, to medical emergencies within its district. Proving emergency medical care in a rural setting is different than providing medical care in an urban setting, when the arrival of an EMS transport unit is longer in the rural setting and subsequent transport times to a local Emergency Room is also longer.
“Our members are very well trained and dedicated to the community,” Allison said. Yet, as much as they are dedicated to their community, Allison is very humble when speaking about how dedicated his 48-members are to each other.
“We have junior firefighters and we require at least a C average in school to maintain membership. If a junior member faces an academic struggle or has issues that are affecting their grades, I make it a point to work with them to resolve whatever is affecting their education,” Allison said. To that point, Chief Allison assumes the role of Headmaster Allison and he will use resources within the department to provide tutoring or mentoring if a kid is in need. “If someone is struggling in math, I help get them a tutor. I just feel like as much as I can do, since I was in their shoes once, I should do because I believe in the process of following your goals,” Allison said. “I’ll be the first to admit that if I had not committed and if the department had not committed to me when I joined 20 years ago, then my life would have been very different,” Allison said.
Still, beyond the walls of this department, Allison is committed to bettering the insurance rating for those taxpayers living in the district. “We lowered our rating from a 9 to a 7, last year, which is an absolute savings to those that have property insured here. Our citizens should be diligent in making sure their rates have been adjusted as there is a savings,” Allison said.
As it is the nature of the profession, Allison and his family of volunteers eventually have to answer a call that affects them. “Its different here in that we all live here and we protect our neighbor or relative or someone knows the homeowner and when we are faced with a situation, our members are affected,” Allison said.
The chief is proud to discuss the strides the department has made under all of his predecessors and also share vision goals for the future. But he is reserved when it comes to discussing scenes and calls that have affects both immediately and long term. “There are just parts of what we do that we respect and some scenes are too delicate to discuss,” Allison said. And while this is a community-based Fire Department, Allison is constantly seeking ways to maintain readiness and frugality as much as possible. “In recent years I have written for grants and have received over [$100,000] in grant monies that have not had to come from the general fund and that commits us to managing the budget better for our community,” the chief says.
In the short term, Allison and his volunteers anticipate the delivery of a new rescue-pumper in the fall, and there is a goal in the future to add an additional station in the Terry Road area of the district. Yet in between, there are calls to answer (250-300 annually) and trainings and meetings and thanks to a Ladies Auxiliary, the firefighters are treated to special events throughout the year, like a Bulls Game or a nice meal at Homestead Steakhouse, thanks to fundraisers hosted by the auxiliary.
As is the nature of emergency response, Allison and those officers and volunteers of Caldwell will answer the call for service and exercise their training and experience to mitigate and assist those in need, no matter the outcome. For this born and raised fire Chief, like his predecessors, responding to the call at 2:50 in the morning is not just part of the job, it is part of the community, too.
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