A year of deliberation led to the decision by Tom Bauguess to join the Elkin Fire Department as a member of its volunteer support staff, a new program set up for those who want to be part of the department, but maybe not in a role to actually fight fire.

Bauguess said he saw an initial email recruiting members for the EFD’s volunteer support staff about a year ago and contemplated joining, but held off. “If I’m not a firefighter, I thought what would the job be, and how beneficial would it be?” he said. “Then a year later, I got the email blast from the [Yadkin Valley] Chamber of Commerce.”

So Bauguess, a two-time chamber ambassador of the year, applied to join the fire department. After a background check and drug test, he became a member of the department, in the support staff role. He is one of three approved support staff, with three others in the application process, said Capt. Theresa Knops, who heads the recruitment efforts for the department.

Knops explained the department sets up training specifically for the volunteer support staff, and the members also can attend department fire training and meetings. “When we are toned out to a structure fire or major incident, they report to the station and radio and let the incident commander know they are available to help,” she said.

The role of the volunteer support staff will range anywhere from providing drinks to traffic control to incident management to filling air bottles, anywhere they are comfortable and needed, but without driving trucks or entering burning buildings, she said.

“As we build the program, their roles will expand,” Knops said.

One of the things an applicant must do is write a letter explaining why they want to join the department. Bauguess said his letter highlighted the fact he’d lived in Elkin his whole life, despite having opportunities to leave for other jobs. “I like a small town. It is a worthy cause and something that’s needed. I work in downtown Elkin, and I’m very passionate about giving back to the community,” he said.

Bauguess serves as the mortgages and family services director for the Upper Yadkin Valley Habitat for Humanity, where he volunteered before being hired as paid staff. “Being involved with the position I have at Habitat, we are asking for volunteers constantly, so I think if you’re going to ask for volunteers, you need to be willing to volunteer for other causes and get involved.”

Although he’s not had any direct contact as a member of a fire department prior to this, Bauguess isn’t a complete stranger to the fire service. He said his twin brother and sister-in-law are both members of nearby Pleasant Hill Fire Department.

So far, Bauguess said his favorite part of joining EFD has been “meeting the new people, learning what their jobs are, and being able to help make a difference in the community.”

Each of the support staff members carries a pager so they can monitor fire calls. He said when he hears the pager go off a number of emotions and thoughts go through his mind. “It is excitement, and at the same time, concern about what might happen to the people involved, if someone gets hurt, or if a firefighter gets hurt,” Bauguess said. “No matter who it is, you’re going to try you’re best to help.”

As part of the Habitat staff, Bauguess said he makes a point to make his volunteers feel welcome and part of the team, and the fire department has done the same for him. “It’s the camaraderie. When Theresa first talked to us, she said it was like it’s a big family, and that’s what it is,” he said.

Each support staff member is issued, in addition to the pager, a uniform with a T-shirt and duty pants.

“We are really encouraging our support staff to help us building that program and we’re letting them lead on how they want to be involved,” Knops said. “When I first started the program, it was a lot of public education stuff, so we will be changing some of the training and letting the support staff steer the direction.”

Bauguess said already he has helped spray runners in the Foothills Wet Run earlier this summer, and this past weekend he attended a live burn training in Dobson along with volunteer support staff member Myra Cook. Saturday, he helped with smoke detector canvassing and installation in town, a program in partnership with the American Red Cross.

“Even though there is an interview process, it was comfortable, and they make it easy,” said Bauguess, who added he is considering getting more involved as a medical responder and possibly even becoming a firefighter once he sees what’s involved.

Interim Fire Chief Don Mitchell said, “I appreciate Captain Knops’ work in the recruitment and training of our volunteer support staff. Those that have chosen to be a member of the support group are very much appreciated and will be a valuable part of the Elkin Fire Department.”

With fire departments across the region and the nation facing declining numbers of volunteers, programs like the support staff could be a way for community members to get involved while letting those who want to do the hands-on firefighting. Knops encouraged any departments interested in learning more about EFD’s volunteer support staff program to contact her at the station, 336-794-6481.

“One thing I’m picking up on, I think it’s awesome the way the volunteers work with other fire departments. It is more intermingled than what I thought,” Bauguess said.

Those who work or live in the Elkin area and are interested in joining the Elkin Fire Department as a firefighter or support staff member can visit www.elkinfire.com for an online application; stop by the fire station at 304 N. Front St.; or call 336-794-6481.

Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.

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