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The other day, my wife and I were in Kent County when we saw smoke on the horizon. We went about our business for a little while, and then curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to go over and check out the fire. It turned out there was a brush fire that got out of control and grew from 25 acres to 100 acres.

I'm happy to say there was no loss of life or significant property damage. The fire did, however, come very close to homes. I was standing next to a man who had to be evacuated from his home and was not allowed to go back inside; the police were keeping him out. We could not feel the heat of the fire, but there was smoke all around us, and burned vegetation was blowing in the air.

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What struck me most about that day was the word "volunteer" written on virtually every piece of emergency equipment that I could see: tankers, fire trucks and ambulances. No one was getting paid to fight the fire that day. It was a perfectly glorious Sunday. The men and women who were out there fighting the fire were, for the most part, in their mid-twenties to early thirties. They were there because they chose to be, not because they had to be.

How many of us would wake up early one fine Sunday morning, get dressed in hot, bulky clothing and go risk our lives for no money and little reward? These folks do that all the time. They don't get a car they can take home, don't get to carry a gun, don't get to arrest anyone, and when they do their volunteer job, it's frequently uncomfortable and dangerous. In fact, one of the volunteers that day had to be evacuated for medical attention.

I live in a densely populated area, and my local fire department, like so many others, is volunteer. Most of the time when we see these individuals, it is generally either on the way to or back from an emergency. We also occasionally see them collecting money on the side of the road. With either boot or helmet in hand, they ask for donations to keep them in the latest lifesaving equipment. Perhaps we give them $5 or $10 on those occasions. I think very few people give them the amount that's equal to, say, a basic cable bill. As busy Americans, we justify our blasé attitude. The truth of the matter is that there is no justification.

I'm a small business owner and a marketing guy. I think it would be a wonderful idea if one person was designated to ride along on the truck and knock on doors while the others were in the middle of fighting fires. I would start with the next-door neighbors whose houses they saved. I think you'd see a big rise in donations.

I really can't give these people enough credit, and I don't think that our communities do enough to honor the men and women who risk their lives and volunteer. At least, it doesn't seem like we do enough. If you ever lose your faith in people, as I do from time to time, follow one of these trucks to a disaster and watch who jumps off and what they do. I believe, in the end, you will walk away with a better feeling about the people in your community and be amazed by what total strangers are willing to do to protect you.

James T. Sarazin is a business owner and resident of Howard County. His email is jsarazin@sandkgroup.net.

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