BY SHERI TRUSTY
Like many fire departments across the county and the state, the Portage Fire District in Oak Harbor is desperate for volunteers. Each year, the department handles about 140 calls with an all-volunteer staff that is at half capacity.
“We have 16 people on active roster, but we have room for 36,” said Portage Fire Chief Tony Hand. “It’s a national problem. Every department in Ottawa County can use people.”
Those 16 firefighters are all volunteers, so they must work firefighting around full-time jobs. Most of them, like Hand, work out of town, meaning they aren’t close enough to respond during working hours. Hand’s work takes him across the state, and yet he still commits 10 to 20 hours each week to the department.
“If there’s a call and someone is available in town, they respond, and we have mutual aid agreements with neighboring towns,” Hand said.
Working with a short staff demonstrates the firefighters’ commitment to the village and its residents. They work harder than they should for no pay. Hand has been with the department for 23 years and has served as chief for about seven months. He stepped up, knowing the added responsibility would require even more time from him.
“I like serving the community,” he said. “The only reason we are here is to serve our citizens.”
Hand is hoping other men and women will see the value of joining the department, too. Potential volunteer firefighters must have a high school diploma or GED and must be local residents. Training and equipment are supplied.
For more information on becoming a volunteer firefighter with the Portage Fire District, call 419-898-3109. Applications can be found at www.portagefiredistrict.org/join.
“If you want to give back to the community, learn valuable skills, and help other people, this is the perfect opportunity,” Hand said.