By Chelsea Royer
Don Wisdom joined the Montesano Fire Department as a volunteer in February 1961. His uncle and friends were on the volunteer department and it seemed only natural for him to join. It was fun, interesting, and an exciting way to serve the community. He didn’t know at the time that he’d be inspiring over 120 years of combined service between himself and his three sons – a length of time that amounts to more than the department itself has been in existence.
Dave, joining the same department in 1984, was perhaps the toughest nut to crack in the family. “I didn’t enjoy it at first when I joined, but I grew to love it,” he says. Dave retired after 26 years of service. His brother Doug retired after 30 years of volunteering, while Dan Wisdom, affectionately known amongst department members as “Red Eye,” is still volunteering after 37 years of service. Multiple times, Dan has been awarded for attending the most calls in a year as well as for participating in the most medical transports. For Dan, the Montesano Fire Department is a second family and his social life. An invaluable asset to the department, he represents three generations of commitment and service to the community.
Speaking to these brothers, they all have positive attitudes about, what I believe is, an impressive sacrifice. Doug joined the department first out of his brothers in 1975 just because it was a part of his culture. “It was rewarding and a way to give back,” Doug says. He was one of the first generations of volunteers required to take the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) course as a part of his service to Montesano. “I was surprised at how well I scored on my test. What motivated me most in taking the course was learning about medical response for my family’s safety,” explains Doug.
“Being a volunteer was a big commitment – a family commitment. My favorite times of volunteering was when I knew I’d saved someone,” he says. “Not many people survived after CPR, but the ones that did made you feel excited.” Doug explains that he also enjoyed calming people down. Telling jokes, carrying on a conversation with the patient, and distracting them from an otherwise terrible day was incredibly rewarding.
Montesano Fire Captain Adam Bigby explains that as a firefighter and paramedic, you don’t remember many details about your service. “You remember the funny pranks played on your team members and you remember the really awful emergency calls.” Doug adds, “One of my first calls as an EMT was an infant fatality. Those types of calls stick with you.”
The volunteer members see death and illness as well as graphic scenes and danger. As much fun as the Wisdom family has had over the years at their department, it has been far from easy. “The Wisdom’s have contributed so much,” says Captain Bigby. “There’s lots of family history in the department. The longtime volunteers in our community are the backbone of our department.”
All of the Wisdom’s agree that the Montesano Fire Department has changed over the years, but that the concept of camaraderie, community service, and safety remain the same. “People come and go in this department, but you can rest assured that someone here will always know how to get the job done and how to get it done safely,” says Dave.
The community itself has has a large impact on the volunteer crew. “People have brought pizzas and water over to us while we’ve fought fires. I guess if I were to say anything it would be thanks to the citizens and the support they’ve given the department,” Dave says.
From practical jokes to playful competitions between departments to horrific emergency calls and dangerous fires, the Wisdom family has seen it all and come out stronger as a result. They encourage community members to think about volunteerism. Doug cautions, “It’s a big time commitment and there is so much more training required now than there was back when I joined.” Captain Bigby agrees with this statement, reiterating that it takes an entire family to support one volunteer, but that the rewards are well worth the effort.
The Montesano Fire Department accepts volunteer applications twice a year. Proudly, a large number of Montesano Fire Department volunteers go on to become career firefighters – a testament to the training and atmosphere of their first department. Whether you are looking to serve your community or thinking about firefighting as a career, volunteering at your local department is something to seriously consider. The sense of tradition, the value of life, and the culture of dedication is something to be proud of.
Many thanks go out to the volunteers, like the Wisdoms, who have and continue to serve.