Despite the pandemic, or possibly even because of it, support for our local firefighters, who are duel-certified as paramedics, has never wavered. According to Joe Hill, board secretary of the Vero Beach Volunteer Fire Department, speaking at their 54th annual Fish Fry fundraiser at Fire Rescue Station #2, they have dispersed upwards of $50,000 in donations over the past five years.
“I actually got a stack of envelopes that was 3 inches tall. I go through those envelopes and I get goosebumps,” said Hill, who joined as a volunteer about five years ago and is trained as an EMT.
“It’s a great event. Vero Beach is just amazing the way they support us. Without the donations we would not be here,” said Hill.
While last year’s Fish Fry took a grab-and-go approach, this year had limited tables set up in the station’s bay, although the majority of the nearly 300 dinners of panko-crusted cod, chicken fingers and sides were taken to enjoy at home.
“We have some new sides this year. We have homemade macaroni and cheese, and I made coleslaw using a family recipe in a licensed church kitchen,” said Hill. “And then we have special firehouse baked beans made by one of our volunteer firemen, David Vazquez. He works full-time at Walmart as a mechanic and then he has a side catering business called Fuel the Fire.”
A fixture in the community since 1923, the volunteer squad provides backup and support to Indian River County Fire Rescue and to the community at large. Funds raised are funneled into a variety of areas, including lifesaving equipment, public service projects and scholarships for firefighting, EMT and paramedic classes. Hill said they plan to provide more CPR training and other classes to residents, post-COVID.
“We have more young people coming in who are looking to volunteer, but they’re also interested in maybe moving into a full-time career. They’re usually with us two to four years through that schooling, and they’re getting to know the county, work with residents and actually volunteer on fire trucks and ambulances,” said Hill. He noted that in this line of work, hands-on experience can be even more important than book learning. “And then there are other people like me, that just want to work in the community and volunteer.”
Donations help provide scholarships toward fire academies and EMT and paramedic training.
“EMT school is $3,000 to $4,000, paramedic school is $10,000 to $12,000, and they need to have both. And then fire school is $3,000 to $4,000, so you add this up and it’s a lot of money,” said Hill. “The scholarships will be $1,000 to $2,000, and if they stay multiple years, they can get multiple years of scholarships.”
In addition to the Indian River State College Fire Academy, he said some students are going to a new Fire Training Academy at Eastern Florida State College in Brevard County, and the Treasure Coast Medical Institute in Fort Pierce now offers EMT and paramedic training.
“We’ve also done two in-house paramedic courses within the organization. I worked with two different colleges and we brought instructors in and we met in a fire station,” said Hill. “We’ve graduated 30 students through that, and the cost for that was $5,000 to $6000 per person versus $10,000 to $12,000.”
Volunteers can work in any of the stations in the county and, unlike permanent hires who are assigned positions by a captain, are allowed to pick their shift, said Hill, who primarily volunteers at Station 2.
“It’s kind of become almost like a second full-time job for me. I’m a software developer but I’m building computer systems that we’re using that are going to carry this department into the future,” said Hill. “It’s amazing stuff. And it’s just absolutely astounding how this community supports us. So, thank you Vero Beach.”
For more information, visit vbfire.org.
Photos by Kaila Jones