Thomas Howard: Thank a first responder, consider volunteering


While many, myself included, have hunkered down these past few weekends to avoid severe weather, our first responders have not.

Last week, Emergency Management Director Brian Taylor told the Newton County Appeal eight people had been rescued from flood waters in three separate incidents. These eight people, old, young, men and women, are alive because when they called for help, someone answered.

It should not escape our notice that many of our first responders serving on our fire departments are not paid. They are volunteers, offering their time and sometimes risking their own wellbeing for the safety and security of their neighbors.

When disaster strikes, our volunteer firefighters are often some of the first to arrive and the last to leave, and those eight people, as well as many others, are alive because of them, our law enforcement and our EMS personnel.

Currently, Newton County and the Town of Decatur seem to be involved in some type of turf war over who will control non-emergency dispatching for the Decatur Police Department. As with many arguments between political bodies, this one stems from money. The county wants Decatur to pay. Decatur doesn’t want to.

Our county will also see a new ambulance provider in the coming weeks, with CareMed EMS, out of Oxford, scheduled to take over EMS service beginning in February. Throughout the past few weeks, CareMed has been meeting with many of our first responders, both paid and unpaid, to see if they’d like to sign on.

At the same time, our volunteer firefighter population is declining. Younger residents aren’t signing up and older generations have to work extra hard to take up the slack. Fire chiefs must now put time and effort into recruitment as there are fewer and fewer people willing to answer a call.

There is a lot of change coming to our county over the next few months, and that can be frightening. But no matter what company logo is stamped on the vehicle, who sent them, or which government entity paid for it, when we call for help, someone will answer.

We shouldn’t overlook that. We shouldn’t take that for granted. We shouldn’t forget the personal sacrifices our first responders, paid and volunteer alike, make to be there when they’re needed and to keep us and our communities safe.

Thomas Howard is the managing editor of The Newton County Appeal. He can be reached at