Engines rev, a timer dings and laughter erupts, all from the common room at a local fire station on the outskirts of Hernando. Some are gathered around the TV watching NASCAR while others congregate outside. No matter their differences, they all have one thing in common — they are all members of L.O.V.E. (Living Off Volunteer Efforts) Fire Department.The L.O.V.E. Fire Department is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization that serves approximately 4,000 people within 40 square miles of Southwest DeSoto County. As one of 10 volunteer fire departments in the county, LFD Station 10 serves the community through fire and safety education, inspections, fire, rescue and emergency medical services when necessary.When walking in the doors of the L.O.V.E. station, “Come on in” and “have a seat” are common greetings for a visitor to hear from the amicable crew that roams the halls. “We are nothing but a big family,” says Captain Steve “Cooter” Ellis.Ellis and his family are from the DeSoto County area. He understands the fear that goes into receiving calls that may be from a relative or someone he knows in the small town with a population of more than 14,000. His heart aches for families who are going through tragedies, big or small, because he knows it’s something he could just as easily being going through. “When it is definitely someone you know, it makes you think a little more. It makes you worry about your family a little more than you did before,” Ellis says.In addition to fire and rescue services, the LFD station works with the Boy Scouts of America to operate a Jr. Firefighter Program. The program, established in 2002, allows young adults ages 14-21 the opportunity to experience a career in fire services firsthand. “I like the thought of being able to help people if you can,” chimes 14 year-old junior firefighter Kaila Shackleford. “It’s your choice — being a volunteer. It’s always interested me.”The L.O.V.E. Fire Department is open to anyone with a desire to serve the community, is eager to provide training to interested individuals and accepts volunteers with little to no experience for positions that range from fire rescue/EMS to administrative to fundraising. “There’s restrictions on things they can’t do, but they can pass out water, and that’s beneficial to us. It’s beneficial to this department,” Chief Shawn Witt says. Anyone interested in joining the family is encouraged to call or come by the station. “There’s a sign out front that has my cell phone number on it, and it has been there for about 12 years, never taken down,” chuckles Chief Witt. But, as with every family, there is a little heartache. “A lot of these calls are an eye opener,” Ellis grimaces. “But you have to do them. The calls are going to come whether you know the people or not.” Although fear may fill the room when a call comes in, the team takes action. They know they have a job to do, even if it might not be easy. The team’s heads bow when a somber event from November 2012 is mentioned in which a young boy, Ryan, was riding with his stepfather when they were struck by a drunk driver in the middle of the afternoon. The stepfather lost his life, leaving the boy’s widowed mother to care for Ryan and his siblings alone. “The reaction of watching a 6-year-old boy who had been in that accident walk through those doors was a feeling you can’t describe,” Chief Witt said.L.O.V.E. took action to help Ryan’s family. Money was raised by selling wristbands and word was spread through the innovative use of the department’s social media presence. “We are big into social media,” Chief Witt adds. “We can just as easily do a Facebook post saying what we need and people will start pouring things in.”Through their efforts and community support, three countries and 31 states contributed to donating to the suffering family. L.O.V.E. even postponed their annual Christmas dinner until the spring when Ryan was able to come home from the hospital so they would have a special guest at their table. “Our community is our family,” says junior firefighter Jonathan Peters. “The challenge is when you see part of your family, and you see them in pain. It takes a little piece of you.”After every call, responders head back to the station for a debriefing to talk about the events of the call, feelings and other struggles they had for the day. “You help someone and they make it, right? But what about those calls when they don’t?” Lieutenant Jeff Richmond adds. “You come back here and you talk about it, but you still have to deal with it. You still take that home. You lose sleep sometimes.”With a mission centered on community involvement, the L.O.V.E. Fire Department uses their limited resources to support those affected by tragic circumstances. “The biggest reward is getting to help that family who lost everything get back on their feet and get on with their lives,” says Ellis.
Causes | October 2013
Local fire department strives for community impact through volunteer efforts
Story by Jennifer Rorie | Photos by Casey Hilder