Always on Call: A look inside volunteer fire departments

GRIMESLAND, N.C. (WNCT) — By day, Bryan Dixon works for a wireless industry company in Greenville and lives a life like millions of Americans.

By night, he is a volunteer firefighter at two stations, one in Pitt County and one in Beaufort County, along with his wife, Tina Dixon, who is the Grimesland fire chief.

“Everybody picks on us about who is the chief in the house,” said Tina Dixon.

Both said their passion started early in life.

“I’ve always had the urge to help people, even when I was little,” said Tina Dixon.

“It was just that avenue that you could do things spur of the moment not planned and have great outcomes,” said Bryan Dixon.

It’s a job they know is never finished.

“It’s amazing how many times you go to a restaurant, and you get your plate, and you sit down only for your alarm to go off, and you have to leave your food sitting,” Bryan Dixon said.

70 percent of the nation’s firefighters are volunteers, but that number is dropping

Since the 1980s, volunteerism has dropped 11 percent.

When volunteer numbers dwindle response times go down, resulting in higher insurance premiums.

Although volunteers can receive tax breaks, Tina believes many people don’t want to serve because they don’t get paid.

“No county, no state could afford to pay benefits or salary to the firefighters that they have that volunteer,” said Tina Dixon.

The financial burden is tough, but some still step up.

“They’ve got to have the desire to give unselfishly,” said Bryan Dixon. “It’s not about me. It’s about my neighbors, my community, it’s about my family.”

Many cities in the East are looking to the younger generation to help out, starting in high school public safety programs

“Life safety, that’s the number-one goal,” said Otis Harrell, a public safety teacher. “If you can’t save yourself, how can you save someone else?”

Students at Southside high school are taught skills, tactics and maneuvers to save lives.

“I really like the program,” said Autumn Pham, junior firefighter. “Personally, you may not use it in your everyday life but that one day might come you know what to do.”

Autumn Pham says the classroom is where she is meant to be.

“My step-dad is the captain of Chocowinity EMS,” said Pham. “My mom went through school when I was little to be a paramedic, and she also works at Chocowinity EMS.”

The Dixons say it starts with family.

“It needs to continue on,” said Tina Dixon. “We are not always going to be here, and we need someone to carry on the tradition.”

There is a place for anyone who wants to make a difference.

“There is a lot of people that like to do it just for lights on the truck or something like that,” said Tina Dixon. “But most people have the heart and soul to be a firefighter and that’s what I don’t want to lose.”

The Dixons say the biggest thing they can do to help is getting the information out.

You can visit their Facebook page or if you want more information on how you can volunteer click here.

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