Darien's volunteer firefighters answer the call — wherever they are, whenever it sounds

Noroton Fire Captain Jack Butcher, Firefighters Dave Woll and his son, Ted Woll.
Noroton Fire Captain Jack Butcher, Firefighters Dave Woll and his son, Ted Woll.

Whether out for a run, sitting down to a family dinner, or taking notes in a Darien High School history class, when the “tones drop” (a fire service colloquialism for the pager tones sounding), Darien fire fighters respond.

And not one of them is paid to do it. Darien's force — about one hundred men and women strong and comprising stations in Noroton, Noroton Heights, and Darien - is 100% volunteer. 

And, as Noroton volunteer Jack Butcher put it, "the fact that most people don't know this means we're doing our job.”

Each call over station horns, personal pagers, and cell phone apps is met with the same professionalism and tight, well-rehearsed chain of command. The first four people to show up, staff a truck, and go. This can happen in minutes.

"You really never know," said Noroton Heights volunteer Cameron Law. "A call can come in as an automatic fire alarm, and you arrive on the scene and there is smoke coming out of a window." 

According to Fire Marshal Bob Buch, the volunteer system works in large part because of the division of labor among the three houses. "You're not constantly running and having home life interrupted," Buch said. Buch himself is a second-generation volunteer, in his thirty-eighth year volunteering for Noroton, in addition to being one of six paid members of the Fire Marshal's office.

"Anyone can be a responder," said Law, father of two small children. Whether you work in the city or locally, whether you have a young family or are an empty nester, whether you are still in school, you can consider volunteering. 

You choose your level of commitment. "There are nights you just have to turn your pager off … But there’s definitely that ‘what did I miss’ feeling when you wake up in the morning,” Law said.

In addition to answering calls within their districts, Noroton Heights and Darien oversee highway calls, and Noroton is responsible for maritime response. Noroton maintains several boats, including a fireboat docked at Ziegler's Cove. Their Marine Division comprises fifteen coast guard trained volunteers. 

Mutual aid calls come in a couple times a year from New Canaan, Norwalk, or Stamford. Of neighboring cities, Darien remains the only force that is 100% volunteer. The benefit to residents: lower taxes, with no cost to safety.

Volunteers train four to five hours a week and maintain a facility behind the Transfer Station where they simulate forcible entry and motor vehicle incidents. These keep responders on their toes and always learning: how to navigate various structural designs or deal with rescues involving new electric vehicles; how to read smoke, use new equipment, and predict challenges. 

In addition, each house moves a few firefighters each year through advanced state training in specialty areas of fire-rescue operations, emergency medical training, and fire ground command and leadership.

The town of Darien owns all apparatus. Funding for additional equipment comes from the town, department-specific fundraising, and fundraising done by the independent Town of Darien Firefighter's Foundation (TODFF), which will host its annual Lobsters for Ladders fundraiser on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018.

An official statement from TODFF reads: "The Town of Darien takes the safety of its citizens very seriously and provides funds for its volunteer fire companies. But when the needs of the departments and our first responders exceed the capacity of the Town, the foundation steps in. Our mission is to have the best gear and the best training so that in times of need, we can secure a good outcome for our community and a safe return to HQ for our first responders."

Look for profiles on six of our responders in upcoming issues of the Times. And find applications for recruitment online.

More info: DarienFirefighter.org