Fires, arsonists, traffic accidents, medical emergencies, cats in trees or bats in the house, no matter what the latest 911 call brings, firefighters at Northeast Teller County Fire Protection District are ready to roll.
“They can never really prepare you for some of the stuff that comes up,” said Robert Dungan, NETCO's firefighter and engineer. “We do get a lot of cats in trees, it's pretty amazing.”
Dungan, along with firefighters Greg Bodine, John Summeril and their chief, Tyler Lambert, offers a peek at a firefighter's world.
“We're kind of the catch-all department,” he said. “Anything that comes up as an emergency, and they don't know how to deal with, they send to us.”
Rescues, urban and wildland, traffic accidents and hazmat incidents, the fire department doesn't discriminate. “Anything our public feels is important enough to call 911 is important enough for us to get out and go help,” Dungan said. “We don't limit what we do.”
While cats in trees aren't really in the firefighers' manual, and, in the end, the felines usually come down, but in a small-county department, there's a heightened sense of community not found anywhere else.
“The thing about cats is that you've never seen a skeleton up in a tree,” Lambert said.
Bodine added, “They come down sooner or later. They get hungry - might take a couple of days but they eventually will come back down.”
Bats are more complex. “You have to think outside the box,” Dungan said. “One time we used a pot to catch a bat, another time we used a box and a pipe pole.”
While fighting fires and responding to medical emergencies, the cats, bats and various other perplexing problems keep things interesting for a department that covers 110,000 square miles.
While the salary isn't up to big-city standards, the four consider the trade-offs. “I love working where I live and being able to attend my kids' events at school,” Summeril said. “Even if we're on shift, Chief lets us roll the truck over to the school to watch a kid's performance; it's just those little things that really make working here nice.”