White Plains fire Lt. Kirk Ponder and his wife, LaBreeska, have been volunteer firefighters for 12 years. LaBreeska Ponder said it’s difficult for the two of them to respond to calls together, depending on childcare availability for their two young daughters. However, both said they enjoy helping their community and being part of the department.
Kirk Ponder, who also owns a cattle farm and works as a reserve Alabama State Trooper, said he watched another farmer’s hay field burst into flames. The lieutenant said he tried to put the fire out himself, but it got out of control. White Plains and Quad Cities volunteer firefighters came to the rescue.
It was that incident, Kirk Ponder said, that made him want to volunteer.
“I got a radio with me now. If I have a fire I can holler at somebody to come down here and help me,” he said with a laugh.
Clay Ponder, a cousin of Kirk Ponder, is one of the department’s newest volunteers.
The 19-year-old said he saw the aftermath of his grandfather’s house fire and wanted to help others avoid the same loss.
“It gets in your blood,” Deputy Chief Stan Cook said about the reasons firefighters start volunteering and stick with it.
Chief Nathan Harper agreed. Harper, who took on the role of chief in May, said he’s been involved with the White Plains Fire Department since he was “knee high.”
Harper’s father and uncle both volunteered, and he decided to follow in their footsteps, which led to his full-time job as a firefighter and paramedic at the Anniston Army Depot.
“They pay me and that’s where I get my skills at, and I come out here and do it for free,” Harper said.
Harper said the department is in the process of “revamping a lot of things.” The volunteers bought a new fire truck, installed a storm shelter that can hold 130 people, and ordered new fire-resistant clothing, called turnouts, to wear during each call.
Harper said the volunteers decided together to focus on a new and improved department. He said many leaders in the department are career firefighters, most with the Anniston Fire Department, and they’re used to a specific standard of equipment.
Harper said the new truck they bought can be used to respond to car accidents, car fires and woods fires. The chief said the new truck will be used for the majority of their calls and be cost-effective for the department by limiting the number of vehicles they use.
All the firefighters agreed each call they get feels close to home.
“You cringe up every time you get a wreck thinking it’s going to be one of your kids,” Kirk Ponder said.
Cook said it’s not like being a firefighter in a larger city where there’s no connection to someone’s loss.
“The calls we run are our neighbors or our family,” Cook said.
The department has 15 volunteers, whose ages range from 18 to 55, and is always looking for more to join.
Harper said there are plenty of jobs available that don’t require going into a burning building, such as driving a fire truck, traffic control on scene and maintaining equipment at the station.
The volunteers said they put a lot of time and effort into keeping their station running and responding to almost 100 calls each year.
One of the biggest things people don’t always consider is what volunteer firefighters are sacrificing, Cook said, when they respond to a call.
“Volunteers miss their kids’ first footsteps because you’re on a call. You’ll miss Christmas. You’ll eat cold turkey on Thanksgiving,” Cook said. “You miss those little things with your kids that you can never get back because you made a commitment to your community.”
Staff Writer Rachael Brown: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RBrown_Star.