A special breed of volunteer

It takes a certain kind of person to answer the call year in and year out as a volunteer firefighter.

Steven Gamble and his father Kevin work together at the Sundre Fire Department

Steven Gamble and his father Kevin work together at the Sundre Fire Department

It takes a certain kind of person to answer the call year in and year out as a volunteer firefighter.

Whatever that quality is, there seems to be plenty of it in Sundre’s Gamble family.

Kevin Gamble has spent 17 years as a volunteer firefighter, a commitment to community that is now shared by son Steven and his younger brother Matthew.

“It’s a special breed,” says Kevin of the men and women who dash from home or work at any time of day or night when they get the call.

“People don’t know they’re claustrophobic until you’re inside a burning building, I tell you.”

Some people will join up with all good intentions. They’ll take the training, then be faced with their first car wreck or building fire. The next day, they’re handing in their helmet and boots.

That’s why Kevin is so proud of his sons. Steven, 27, works at his side at the Sundre volunteer department and is a nine-year veteran. Younger son Matthew was also a Sundre volunteer but has since moved and is now with Caroline’s department.

Kevin says despite the dangers of the job, he doesn’t worry about his son more than any of the other firefighters.

“No, I don’t honestly.

“If there’s a situation to worry about, I worry about everybody.”

And there’s no taking chances when the volunteers have to go to a fire or other incident. If the situation looks dodgy, there’s no playing the odds — they don’t go in.

“I would never put the guys in harm’s way,” says Gamble, who is the training officer for Sundre.

Volunteering is not a decision to be taken lightly. Last year, Sundre firefighters answered 250 calls.

Kevin, who runs his own appliance service business, estimates he spent well over 100 hours on call last year. That’s time on scene or getting there and coming back. It doesn’t count the hours spent training or the hall hours spent every Wednesday evening when firefighters gather.

“I’m not sure what it is this year so far.”

Besides the time commitment, there is the toll the job takes mentally and emotionally.

Anyone whose job is to cut people out of car wrecks is affected in some way. They have a good critical intervention team to work with firefighters after a particularly difficult incident.

“There’s always the call. I have calls in my mind that would horrify the normal person.”

One wreck that stands out saw four people lose their lives. “That was four local people and I mean I knew them very personally.

“When you are taking people out of a twisted wreckage that you know personally, it can have a toll on you.

“There’s also the good calls you remember as well. It’s every firefighter’s dream to save a child out of a burning building.”

While he hasn’t done that yet, he recalls one man who survived a car wreck — but only just.

“He was in a car accident and wandered away deliriously and passed out in the bush. Had we not found him, he wouldn’t have made it.

“I mean there is things like that where you know you saved people’s lives. I’ve been to other wrecks where we’ve brought people back from heart attacks and all that kind of stuff. I mean, saving lives is what we do.

“I don’t take it lightly because there are lots that we don’t save too.”

He recalls early on in his volunteer days a doctor urged him to continue giving CPR to a man in an emergency ward who was not going to make it. The doctor wanted Gamble to practise technique, but more importantly learn that not everyone can be saved.

“It’s kind of a hard lesson. But it hits home. It’s true.”

But there are also the joyful memories. When he was training as an emergency medical technician, he got a chance to help deliver his own daughter Megan, who is now 13.

He has seen much since he watched local firefighters in action and decided to attend an orientation session at the fire hall. Asked why he keeps signing up every year, he says simply, “I find it rewarding.”

Son Steven feels the same way. He first started going to the fire hall when he was 16 and joined up when he reached 18.

“The fire department has been part of my life for 11 years,” says Steven, who like his father has a tattoo of the Sundre fire department badge.

“The thought of helping people” is how he sums up the attraction. “That’s the main thing I do it for, is to help those who are in need.

“We do everything from car accidents to burning houses.”

It’s a devotion to duty that is destined to bring volunteers face to face with life’s most unpleasant truths.

“Like they say, there’s always that one that sticks in your mind.

“I was doing CPR on a guy and the (medical technician) called it and said, ‘That’s enough.’

“I mean, that was hard to stop.”

Steven is determined to turn helping others into his career. He is training as a nurse’s aide at Olds Hospital but is also considering pursuing a full-time firefighting career in a major centre.

“I want to stay in the field of public service and helping out.”

In the meantime, he enjoys working next to his father.

“My dad and I have a close relationship. My dad’s my best friend.”

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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