Holland VFD on the reboundPublished 2:01pm Thursday, March 7, 2013
A mere five years ago, the Holland Volunteer Fire Department was in crisis.
One of its members had been accused — and was later convicted — of sex crimes, some of which had occurred in his role at the department.
“There was five of us here,” Chief Mark Ellis recalled about the number of volunteers. “I’m very proud of the fact I’ve (now) got 25 (phone) numbers here.”
The recovery is only the latest chapter in the Holland department, which at 72 years is the oldest in the city.
The 25 or so volunteers are required to pull duty at Station 7 once a month, but many do it far more often. They work with the career personnel who work from the station.
“We work together hand in hand, and that is the way it’s supposed to be,” Ellis said. “I like the fact we work together, build those relationships.”
Ellis said the volunteers are able to back up the paid staff when there are multiple calls in the same area at the same time. With the department’s large service area and more than its share of high-volume roads, the volunteers frequently find themselves headed out on backup calls, Ellis said.
“It happens a lot that we do get that second call,” said Ellis, who began his volunteer career 32 years ago at Driver Volunteer Fire Department.
Ellis recently became certified to teach firefighter courses and has instructed several of his own volunteers, as well as some from nearby departments. The city requires that volunteers pass the Firefighter 1 course but does not provide the training, Ellis said.
“I want our guys to be able to perform the duties,” Ellis said. “I enjoy teaching.”
Many of his firefighters have gone on to careers in public safety, and many continue to support the Holland department.
“That feels good to know — that I took that person in as a junior firefighter, and they’re moving on to a career, but they’re still loyal to this department as a volunteer,” he said.
The department does two fundraisers each year — fried chicken sales in the fall and sending out letters in April.
The department also has done well lately picking up grants. Last year, the department took delivery of nearly $30,000 worth of specialized emergency equipment designed to help extricate victims of serious car accidents. The equipment was purchased with a grant from the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation. Fortunately, members haven’t had to use it yet, but it is available when the time comes.
Ellis said he recently received a compliment in the grocery store about how the department is doing.
“That’s the reward that I get as a chief,” he said. “It makes me feel like we’re doing something right.”