Protect Hopewell Valley: Why did you become a volunteer firefighter?
Kurt Pedersen: A buddy of mine was a firefighter in Hopewell. He said, “Let’s go!” and I said, “It looks like fun, sure!” Then later I met my wife, and we had little kids, and I left. (Editor’s note: But not permanently. Read on.)
PHV: What made you decide to volunteer again in 2008?
KP: I had this buddy who working the parts counter at a tractor place, and he said, “You ought to come back.” And then I was in the store later, and he said, “Look, I got an application for you. Why don’t you come down and take a look?” I walked into (Union’s) Titusville station on a Tuesday night for a meeting. I was introduced to this amazing group of people who made it very comforting and inviting to come back.
I like to say I came back into the fire service breech. I was with the fire police, and then I took the EMT. And then my at-the-time 18-year old son said, “Dad, I want to take Fire 1,” and I said, “Fine,” and he said, “I have one condition: I want you to take it with me.”
There’s nothing wrong with a good challenge. We had a blast together. And I want you to know that the kids didn’t beat me in class, either. Ryan also still volunteers with Union when he’s home from Kutztown University
PHV: Why do you stick with the fire company?
KP: Our family business is in our 59th year, and the community has always been so gracious to us that I feel the need to give back. And what better way to give back than as a firefighter and EMT?
I also love the forensics of firefighting. I’m fascinated by it. I don’t have my fire inspector certificate, but post-fire, a couple of the senior fire investigators will say hey, take a look, and you can see where it started – the seed of the fire – and how it progressed, and you know how many gallons it took to extinguish the fire.
I enjoy applying that knowledge to the next fire, and using other information, like what type of construction was used in the structure. For example, if it’s an early ‘60s house, and the fire started in the basement, it will go through the walls because there are no fire breaks in the walls. That’s why you can be standing on the first floor with nothing and there are flames coming out of the roof.
The more you learn about the way fire behaves, the better you’re able to fight it, and the better you know when to get out, to stay safe.
I also love the comradery. I love the mutual aid (calls where Union works together with another department). I very much enjoy the association with other people who do what we all do. Everybody runs away from the fire, and firefighters run in. Yeah, we’re running the wrong way. It’s what we do. It’s awesome.
PHV: Describe your most memorable moment as a firefighter.
KP: About six years ago, we responded to a fire at a home in Hopewell Township that started in the garage. The homeowner thought he could extinguish it with a garden house at first, but he couldn’t, and called 911. It was a windy night, and upon arrival, there were big sparks and embers blowing across the road. I assisted Buddy Tunnicliffe as he set up Engine 53 to supply water from portable ponds supplied by tankers, and the interior crew went in and realized there was fire below them.
We started a defensive fight. One crew went in, and then another. Everybody did their job and it worked. With the proper applications of water, it is amazing how you can extinguish a fire.
We went back a few days later to pump water out of the basement. The house had to be torn down, because it was unsafe. Some items could be saved, but you feel bad for the family – it’s emotional. There are inherited things, antiques, and pictures. But the fire could have spread to other structures – there were fireballs flying from the house. We were able to keep it contained.
PHV: What has surprised you about volunteer firefighting and EMT work?
KP: There are all of these young, amazing people coming into the fire service. Our youngest members – our junior firefighters – are still in high school. And they are finding the time to be kids, to do their school, and then come down for a lesson, for our training, for our meetings. Some of them get to respond on calls – from outside of the (burning) building. When I was 16, I don’t know that I would have done it. But these kids, with smiles on their faces, they’re all, “Yep! Here we go!” It’s very heartwarming.
PHV: Any advice for those interested in volunteering?
KP: Come down and just see what it’s like. Listen to a lecture. Watch us in training. Come down and look at our fire trucks and boats – we do marine stuff, too.
You don’t have to be a firefighter. You can be an EMT. You can be an administrative member. There are so many different avenues where you can offer to assist. Come on down – we don’t bite. We laugh. We joke. We play. We get serious.
It’s easy to be set in your ways every day, to go to work, come home, eat dinner, and whatever. But if one Tuesday out of the month, or every Tuesday, you’d love to get out and come to a different place, come down.