Gregg Gilmore remembers what drew him in.
“I started down here wanting to be part of something bigger than myself and to give back to my community,” said Gilmore, a 20-year veteran of the Irvington Volunteer Fire Department and senior engineer for OPPD.
“It’s not for everybody, going into a burning house or being out on a car accident or dealing with a sick patient,” he said. “I feel like it’s my responsibility if I am able and willing to give back.”
His paid and volunteer roles have more in common than people may realize. Both require a depth of knowledge and strategy. Fire or rescue work may be at a quicker pace, but you still have to develop that plan, use your training to implement it and achieve your goal, Gilmore said.
He is also fighting fires on the home front, keeping up with twin five year olds.
“They are so proud, being down here and seeing the cool trucks,” he said. “Maybe they will be down here one day, too. Not necessarily being on the department, but giving back.”
Nathaniel Fengel, an OPPD Facilities crew lead, was just 14 years old when he began volunteering for the Riverton (Iowa) Fire and Rescue Department. “It’s a family thing,” he said. “In my small town, you get on the department, you do it until you die.”
Fengel followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and his father, a 45-year veteran of the department and its current chief. His cousin is assistant chief. They’re among 11 volunteers serving a town of 270.
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Jason Laferriere is assistant chief on the Irvington Volunteer Fire Department. He’s also a lead utilities coordinator for OPPD’s Customer Sales & Service department. He is among a group of volunteer firefighters that work for OPPD. They’re providing essential services in both capacities. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they must take added precautions to ensure they can continue to serve the public.
At OPPD, approximately 50% of the work force has been working remotely since March, including Laferriere. The other half must report to a utility facility to do their critical work. But they’re doing so with increased physical distancing, sanitizing and disinfecting, and face mask requirements.
While the nature of their firefighting work may not allow them to wear face masks at all times, they’ve had added training to work safely while keeping the public safe.
“They are battling COVID-19 on many fronts,” said Laferriere. “They are transporting COVID-19 positive patients while using proper PPE (personal protective equipment), learning how to properly disinfect equipment from those transports, and helping out neighboring fire departments where some of their members may test positive for COVID-19.”
He hasn’t officially taken count of the many hours he puts in at his department, but says it’s substantial.
Such is the life of a firefighter and other essential workers.
“We all have a passion to serve. We care about not only the public, but each other,” Laferriere said. “Same with OPPD. There’s a lot of helping each other out at the district that I think is second to none.”
Those things are part of OPPD’s core values, along with honoring our community and caring for each other.
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