When the pager beeps in the middle of the night and Avon volunteer firefighter Michael Nolan is summoned to a call, his wife, Jaci, a recent Citizen's Fire Academy graduate, always gives him a kiss and tells him to be safe.
She knows that when he arrives on a scene, he is putting his personal safety at risk to help others.
But Jaci recognizes that her husband is following his passion and is someone who believes that it’s important to give back to the community.
She admires his commitment to something that he loves and describes her husband as someone who is “intelligent, courageous and a leader.
"He’s there for people who need help,” she said.
Michael has been a firefighter for 12 years, serving eight years at the Tunxis Hose Fire Station in Unionville, three years in the Farmington Fire Station and nearly a year at the Avon Volunteer Fire Department.
He is currently a 911 dispatcher for the West Hartford police and fire departments.
I met him briefly during my eight Citizens’ Fire Academy classes and enjoyed his wry sense of humor and gregarious personality.
He explained that he has followed in the footsteps of his dad, Bill Nolan. Bill is retired from 30 years of service at Tunxis Hose, where he was a firefighter and EMT. During his time there, Bill also was an officer, rising to the rank of captain.
“Firefighting is in my blood. I was born into it,” Michael said.
He was one of the many men, women and teens helping with the academy who grew up hanging around the fire station and couldn’t wait until they were old enough join the ranks.
But there were other folks I encountered who joined the fire department because they wanted to make a small difference in the world around them.
Myra Frost has been volunteering for the past five years as gear technician. The peppy mother of three boys is responsible for the proper fitting, inspection and upkeep of “turnout gear,” which is what firefighters wear when responding to a call.
Initially, she helped out just a few hours a week, but she eventually became more involved.
“This is something that I can do for the community,” said Frost, explaining that she wants to set a good example for her sons. “I think it’s important to give back.”
She admitted that she enjoys working with “the different characters” who routinely stop by for advice or help with a ripped jacket or pants. “They’re all so interesting. They’re all good people. It’s nice to be in that company,” Frost said.
Avon Fire Chief Michael Trick joined the department in 1991 from a different vantage point. He was discharged from the U.S. Army and felt there was something missing in his life.
When he looked into the fire department, he immediately observed “a unity and sense of camaraderie … that feeling of belonging."
"I found it in the people I met. And there was always something new and interesting to learn,” he said.
Trick was captivated, and once he went on his first call as a full-fledged firefighter, he knew that he had made the right choice.
“The first time that you step off the rig at your first fire, the exhilaration, excitement and fear that you experience cannot be duplicated,” he said. “You cannot understand that feeling until you’ve actually experienced it.”
For very different reasons, these three volunteers found a home in the volunteer fire department.
Volunteer Roles at the Fire Department
There are many ways to help both on the front lines and behind the scenes, many of which had never occurred to me prior to my class. Maybe this information will speak to someone reading my last column in the series.
Here is an overview of the opportunities available at the Avon Volunteer Fire Department:
- External Firefighter: Provides support and assistance, but unable to enter a burning building. Eight to 16 hours of training.
- Firefighter One: Skilled in basic firefighting. 160 hours of training provided, weekly drills and ongoing courses.
- Interior Firefighter: Additional skills in leadership and extrication; expected to lead a crew. 120 additional hours of training provided, weekly drills and ongoing courses.
- Fire Officer: Opportunities to advance through the ranks and teach classes.
- Fire Police: Handles traffic control at a call and provides non-medical rehabilitation support for firefighters. 16 hours of training provided and on-site, shadowing required, as well as weekly drills.
- Administrative Support: Flexible hours for grant-writing assistance, record-keeping, filing insurance claims and other paperwork.
- Explorers: For ages 14-18, similar to external firefighter. Weekly drills and mentoring provided.
Volunteer firefighters can get tax abatements up to $1,000 depending on time contributions, a life insurance policy, and participate in a length of service award program, which is similar to a pension. Mileage reimbursement is also offered.
A major incentive to joining the department, according to Ken Sedlak, fire police lieutenant and Avon Volunteer Fire Department board vice president, is something far less tangible.
“One of the biggest benefits is having the opportunity to go out and help somebody on what is their worst day,” he said. “Not everyone has that chance. Emergency responders are lucky enough to really make a difference. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s true.”
More information about volunteer opportunities at the Avon fire department are available online at http://www.avonvfd.org/.
Editor's Note: This story has been revised. The original version of this article stated that Mike Nolan was a police officer and fire department dispatcher. He was, in fact, not a police officer, but is a 911 dispatcher for the West Hartford police and fire departments. The article initially stated that he has been a member of the Avon Volunteer Fire Department for 12 years, when in fact he is just going on a year there. He has, however, been a firefighter for 12 years, including eight years at Tunxis Hose Fire Station in Unionville and three years at the Farmington Fire Station. Finally, the article incorrectly reported that his father, Bill Nolan is retired from serving 30 years at the Avon Volunteer Fire Department. Bill Nolan is actually a retired member from Tunxis Hose, where he was a firefighter and EMT and rose to the ranks of captain. These reporting errors have been corrected.
Any correction requests for Patch articles can be sent to Jessie.Sawyer@patch.com.