Giving back to the community: A tragic fire inspired Frank Kay to volunteer over 30 years as a firefighter

Published 3:06 pm Wednesday, March 27, 2024

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Working in defense of the public, be it against fire or crime, is not a job everyone is cut out for. Doing the job for free, and for decades at that, is something even fewer are inclined to do. Thankfully, there are still some who are willing to risk their lives with little to no reward in our community.

Frank Kay is one such individual. Captain of the Blackjack Volunteer Fire Department, Kay has been with the VFD for over 30 years. He first volunteered following a tragic fire in the community, which pushed him to give back to the community.

“I lived over here on Pine Ridge Drive,” he said, “… and we had a house fire about five or six houses down from me where I lived at the time, and a lady had burnt up in the house. It just got to hitting me pretty hard that, as close as I was, if I was a volunteer fireman, could I have been there and done anything different?”

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As a volunteer fireman, Kay and the BVFD are essentially on-call 24/7, responding to everything typical firefighters do, from structure fires, to brush fires and wrecks, as well as medical calls.

“We do some medical calls, if EMS or somebody needs help lifting somebody, or if they’re all tied up and there’s somebody in our area, they’ll call some of the volunteers to go in.”

Kay reiterated the danger faced by fire crews on any call they may go out on, “doesn’t matter how minor or how important it is, how big of a fire or how bad of a wreck.” Some of the danger, he said, may even come from passing traffic in some cases.

“Just driving down the road, especially when you’ve got emergency lights running on a fire truck, a lot of folks don’t heed those lights and siren a lot,” he said. “They’re either listening to music or texting on their phone… just getting to the calls is danger enough.”

The unexpected is just a part of job, he says. “You know, when the callers call in, they’re kinda oblivious of what all’s going on, all they know is they’ve got smoke coming out of the house… by the time it gets from them, to the 9-1-1 operators to us, sometimes some of that information gets lost. So you never really know what you’re gonna see when you pull up on a call.”

Having started at the Blackjack station, Kay has recently been put over the station at 97 South, after the captain had to step down. He explained that, on any structure fire call, not only does Decatur County Fire and Rescue get the call, but three other volunteer stations do too: the station in the same district as the fire, naturally, and the two closest district VFDs.

Having two VFDs under his watch has naturally increased Kay’s time out on call, at least a little bit. It has also added the responsibility of maintenance and upkeep of the volunteer stations and fire trucks.

“That’s what we’re working on now out there, trying to get different things picked up on the truck,” he said, “keep it clean, make sure the battery’s charged, make sure there’s air in the truck.” He explained that the Blackjack station has quick-connect air hoses and electrical connectors the 97 South station lacks.

“That way the air pressure’s always built up, the battery charger’s always charging the batteries, and when you turn the key they both pop off so you can take off,” he explained. “Out there we don’t have any of that. When you crank an air brake truck up that’s been sitting for a week, the air is zero. It’s gonna take three or four minutes but it feels like 20 minutes, when you know that somebody’s house is burning down.”

Of course, as a volunteer, Kay spends most of his day at his job, that being co-owner of Quality Sign Company.

“There’s always gonna be time as a volunteer that you can’t respond to everything,” he said. “You’ve got family time, you’ve gotta work, whatever the outcome is.”

Despite being a business owner, managing his time at the office is not what Kay struggles with, but rather his family commitments: “I’m raising grandkids, I’ve got two twins that just went to college and I’ve still got a 14-year-old at the house, and a wife. So sometimes we’re sitting there eating at a restaurant in the middle of the afternoon, or at 6:00, 7:00 at night, in the middle of eating supper, if that alarm goes off, they know, we gotta get a to-go plate and let’s go.”

Of course, as volunteers, neither Kay nor the rest of his crews are paid for their work. “In Decatur County we do not get any pay whatsoever, for anything, as a volunteer,” he said. “It’s basically just the fact that you know you helped the community. But without the volunteer stations… it would be tough, because you’ve got one paid station at Central, and you’ve got one truck in West Bainbridge that’s a county truck, and that’s it, as far as paid firemen… all the help comes from volunteers.”

Kay encouraged anyone looking to become a volunteer to reach out to Decatur County Fire and Rescue. “We definitely need a lot more than we have now,” he said. A volunteer firefighter position may not be for everyone, but it is certainly for those who wish to serve their community, those being in high demand.