Why these volunteer firefighters drive white fire trucks around Virginia

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Posted at 5:15 PM, Mar 13, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-13 17:25:23-04

BRUNSWICK COUNTY, Va. -- A statistic that may surprise many is that more than half of the firefighters across the country are volunteer.

In many areas, those same volunteers serve as the first line of defense in an emergency. In rural areas, some are the only firefighters who show up to blazes.

In Brunswick County, a small community known as Dolphin, is known not only for its unique name, but also the unique color of their fire engines.

“The patient or victim or somebody that has a house fire doesn’t care what color the apparatus is, they just need some help," said Bill Parrish, chief of the Dolphin Volunteer Fire Department.

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Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bill Parrish

The white fire trucks have long blended into the community, and serve as a reminder to the residents that they are doing what is best for the community they serve.

Dolphin is not willing to spend money on red paint, the common color for fire trucks, as they would rather use the money where it is needed most.

"When you are in a poor community, it's not so easy to look at the demographics, look at the data we have that there's not a lot of funding here," Parrish said.

The white fire trucks were bought used from Pennsylvania, the red ones from Long Island, and all have continued to serve the Dolphin community well.

"We can't see us buying a $800,000 engine, that's just a basic engine we would have to fundraise and put ourselves in a bind to that," Parrish said.

Founded in 1977, the department now responds to over 150 emergency calls every year. The volunteers say they know they're often protecting their families and friends.

“What’s so unique about here and unique about most volunteer fire departments is that when we go out, we’re going out to help out neighbor, we’re helping people we know, people we’ve grown up with, families that we know, maybe it’s one of our family members, we’re going to help them," Assistant Chief Jonathan Barnes said.

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Assistant Chief Jonathan Barnes

The department relies on its members to help keep costs down by doing repairs themselves.

“We fix a lot of our own, blessed to have people who can work on apparatus, they can do some of the small stuff to save us $1,000 here or $2,000 here," Parrish said.

And they rely on three big fundraisers each year to help bring in some added funds to cover expenses.

“There’s a big fish fry in May, we do the barbecues and then do Brunswick stew," Parrish said.

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The department also doesn't want you to mistake "rural" and "volunteer" as "not well trained" or "well-equipped"

This fire department is all of those things, with a rescue truck capable of handling 25 to 50 patients in a mass casualty incident.

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“This is an MCI walk kit, these are designed for active shooter, mass trauma, they have cat tourniquets, hemostatic dressings, they have traits tags for the patient, it has 8 of everything," Parrish said.

Whether red, white, or yellow, it's not the trucks that make the department - it's the men and women who freely give their time and are willing to risk their lives to keep their community safe.

Nearly 71% of fire departments in Virginia are volunteers. If you'd like to become a volunteer, you can reach out to your local fire department.

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