BURKE - Being a firefighter is East Burke means a couple of things; you are dedicated to helping other people and you are a volunteer. Several of the volunteers happen to also be college students in the area.
The East Burke Fire Brigade is made up of 15 volunteer firefighters, one of them being Doug Gifford. Gifford has been with the East Burke Brigade for over a year now. "Before that, I was on the Sheffield Wheelock Volunteer Fire Department for about a year," he said. "East Burke was much closer and I knew of other college students that had been on the department." Gifford is currently a student at Lyndon State College.
Another college student volunteer is Richard Kahan, who started firefighting to be just like his dad. "I decided to start because my father was volunteer firefighter, and sometimes when I was very young he would ring to a call in his car if he missed the engine," Kahan said. "I would just sit in the car and I was would watch as my dad and the Stratford Fire Department did whatever they needed to do. I have always looked up to and tried to model myself after my father."
No matter how they started, they both know what it means to be a volunteer firefighter. Kahan said, "To me it means helping out my community," and Gifford has similar views. "Being a true volunteer firefighter, we do not get any sort of compensation at all," he said. "That means we are donating our own time and money to help others. I honestly prefer it this way, as I'm not really one for attention, and I do not feel the need to be recognized/ compensated for helping others. If someone needs my help, I'm helping them because I feel compelled to do so. Going on calls typically means that the people who called are having a rough day. If I'm able to make their day just a tad bit brighter, that's all the satisfaction I need."
The job isn't always a walk in the park, but it's always exciting. "Ever since I was little I have always craved adrenaline, and nothing quite gets your adrenaline going like going into a house that is on fire," Kahan said. The firefighters shared their most memorable moments.
As for Kahan, it was his first time getting in and fighting a fire. "My most memorable moment is definitely the first time my assistant chief told me I was going 'in' into a chimney fire that spread to the attic," he said. "It was my first real structure fire where I was sent in as interior attack, everything went as planned and we were able to save the house." And same goes for Gifford. It seems the first call is always the most memorable.
"I would have to say that my most memorable moment was probably my first official call with East Burke," Gifford said. "Not just because it was my first, but because of the positive outcome that came out of a rather unfortunate event."
The brigade was sent out to Burke Mountain when a man was reportedly run over by a heavy piece of construction equipment and was going into shock. "Not knowing what to expect, all of us firefighters were prepared for the worst," Gifford said. "Upon arrival, we were slightly relieved when we found the man lying down awake and alert, although clearly in a lot of pain. Due to the intensity of his injuries, he was sent off by helicopter to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, expected to be permanently paralyzed." A few days later, they got an unexpected follow up. "We got an update from the hospital, which Rarely ever happens…beating all odds, the man did not have any spinal injuries, just a broken pelvis and a few other injuries that would require surgery. With this in mind, the man would eventually be able to go home walking, retaining his usual lifestyle," he said. "To this day, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing someone you helped make full recovery, when all odds are against them."
That's one of the stories that keeps him going. "I continue to volunteer because of this inner drive I have within myself. That is, to put others before myself when need be," Gifford said. "I also really like being able to help others, especially when I could be the only person that ever makes a difference in their life"
"First and for most, we save lives, and there is honestly no better feeling then being able to help someone on what might be the worst day of their lives," Kahan said. "And of course, who doesn’t love a firefighter?"