The county's 632 volunteer firefighters will be recognized for their community service today as the county marks National Volunteer Firefighter Day.
In Orange County, the volunteer firefighters are actually "paid call firefighters" because they do receive some compensation for their efforts. But it is far less than what professional firefighters receive and typically just enough to cover their costs. They are paid $7 for each call they respond to and $7 an hour for calls lasting longer than an hour and a half.
"That's really not much profit considering the demand it puts on the individuals," said Orange County Fire Dept. Capt. Dan Young. "It's not the kind of thing you'd do for extra income. But these individuals should not lose money by volunteering their time."
In 1984, then-President Ronald Reagan designated the third Saturday in August a day to honor the firefighters. This year, the Board of Supervisors and the 12 cities served by the Orange County Fire Department have declared today Volunteer Firefighter Day.
Volunteers serve as a second string, often used to staff a station when the company of professional firefighters are called out. But they also go on calls themselves, fighting fires and providing medical aids, and they wear the same uniforms as other firefighters.
In some areas of the county, Modjeska and Santiago canyons for example, volunteers serve as the first string because there is not enough demand to justify full-time firefighters, Young said.
Joe Kalmick, 46, a volunteer firefighter in Seal Beach for 13 years, owns a small business on Main Street around the corner from the fire station, and gets three to five calls a week.
"I think that all of us have an affinity for fire engines at one point in our life," said Kalmick. "This is exciting and it's a tangible community service."
Being a volunteer firefighter means wearing a pager around the clock and giving up a lot of freedom. The volunteers are requested to respond to any call they can and have some shifts during which response is mandatory.
"What's good about it is it's so spontaneous," said Kyle Shields, 24, a Los Alamitos volunteer and a senior at Cal State Long Beach. "You can be sitting at home watching TV and your pager goes off and you have to get down to the station within two to three minutes. You just drop whatever you're doing."