May 31—GARDEN CITY — Garden City Fire and Rescue may be a volunteer group — like many of the fire departments in the county — but their responsibilities to the community are 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Chief James Johnson ensures the fire fighters get plenty of training and that the department has the equipment needed to protect the town and surrounding areas.
There are 15 fire fighters on the roster, and Johnson arranges two hours of training for them once a week, along with eight hours every-other Saturday. In order to drive one of the three trucks, volunteers have to be certified first. Four of the volunteers have completed emergency medical technician training, but all have had some medical training as well, said Johnson. He, too, is continuing his training. He's attending the Alabama Fire College through the Hanceville Fire Department to get his instructors certification.
"It's a constant thing," said Johnson.
"As a fire chief, these are my kids and I'm putting them in harm's way and I'd be scared to death that I'm putting them in harm's way without training," he said.
The department also participates in mutual aid training with surrounding departments, including swift water training with Bangor. With the river nearby, he said, "We felt like it was something we needed to do."
Garden City's fire department has mutual aid agreements with several fire departments, providing assistance and back up when needed. "We've really built a good family of fire chiefs in our area," said Johnson.
The work of the department has not gone unnoticed. At nearly every town council meeting, the council makes note of the work the fire department is doing and is supportive of their efforts.
"I can't say enough about the mayor and council members," said Johnson. "They've always been there when we needed them."
While one of his goals is to get the department more self-sufficient, he notes it's difficult to purchase engines and other equipment on proceeds from BINGO and other fundraisers. And last year, COVID prevented the department from holding any of its usual fundraisers, which include a Swamp Johns Dinner and music festival.
This year, they're looking forward to bringing those back, along with hosting movie nights in the park for the community. "A lot of our fundraisers are more to get the community involved because there is no way you can raise that kind of money," he said, noting that the department is getting a new service truck soon, which they hope will reduce the town's ISO rating, which will reduce residents' insurance rates. The current ISO rating is a 9.
Johnson said the financial side of fire fighting is his biggest challenge: "Trying to keep my guys in proper gear and afford it all," he said. As an example, he points to an axe that is approved for fire fighting. The cost? $150.
But the reward for all their hard work and training is knowing it's making a big difference. "For me, when you hear the newborn cry in your hands after giving it CPR . . . when you can start seeing that you're making a difference in your community, that's what matters," said Johnson. "I want to be here for every family."