Firefighter explains his passion

Firefighter John Morford in repose after working long hours — Photo by T.J. Thomson

Firefighter John Morford in repose after working long hours — Photo by T.J. Thomson

At the end of the second day of fire management, members of the Chadron Volunteer Fire Department lean against the ashen back of a white pickup truck. The bags under their eyes bespeak hard work, but their weary smiles and friendly banter tell the better half of the story. After fighting the fires surrounding his town for 22 hours, veteran volunteer John Morford, a Chadron local, chatted with his fellow firemen at the firehouse Thursday night.

“This fire is really fast,” Morford said. “The summer is so dry and so hot, plus the grass in the national park is a little higher than usual since the parks service reduced grazing.” These factors, plus Tuesday’s lightning, combined in the perfect fire-making storm.

As a volunteer for 18 years, Morford has seen his fair share of conflagrations, including the 2006 West Ash fire, which prompted evacuations and marred the Dawes County landscape 6 years ago.

“The two fires are really similar,” Morford said. “They were both managed the same, and they both required lots of resources and people.”

The department has plenty of resources, as donations pour in from concerned citizens. Fortunately, Brenda Morford, has been helping the fire department since her husband joined almost two decades ago.  Volunteer fire departments, like Chadron’s, lack the auxiliary support teams of larger institutions; people who prepare supplies, make meals, call for equipment or food, and answer phones to manage the inpouring of goods from the community. The local family of firefighters is not without help, however, thanks to their committed corps of aids (affectionately called “fire wives”). Brenda herself had been on the premises for more than 30 hours, and with her help the community’s resources were strategically dispersed to meet the need.

“If they need something, we jump in and do it” Brenda Morford said.

When asked why he initially joined the firemen, John Morford responded, “Anytime you‘re in a community you should always look for a way to serve and help out. It doesn’t have to be firefighting; there are lots of ways to give back to your community.”

The position is clearly not without danger, though. After so many years fighting, Morford experiences two things after the call for a large fire: first, the initial rush of adrenaline, but then this veteran considers his family and work life, and it’s only after these two are “in order” will he commit to such a time-consuming and dangerous event. Yet despite the struggle in fighting fire, it is truly a family operation. Morford’s two daughters helped throughout the day, and the youngest aspires to be a fireman like her father.

“It gets into your blood” Brenda Morford said about her family’s involvement.

“The hardest part is when you don’t know exactly where your spouse is,” Brenda Morford said, surrounded by fellow volunteers in the Chadron firehouse. “But on the other hand, the greatest part is when you hear their voice over the radio, and you know they’re ok. You never get over that. Eighteen years, and I still haven’t.”

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