DuBOIS — Growing up watching his father and uncles serve their communities firefighting, Sandy Township Volunteer Fire Department Chief Rob Burgeson recalled eagerly awaiting to follow in their footsteps.
“It’s something I always looked up to them for doing,” said Burgeson, who began his two-year fire chief term on Jan. 1. “As a kid, I grew up behind the fire station and every time I was home and sirens would go off, I would run out back to watch the fire trucks go and could not wait to be old enough to join.”
Burgeson, 34, has been a firefighter for 18 years, starting as a junior firefighter with the Wilcox Fire Department. He later relocated to Chambersburg, Pa., where he was a member of the Franklin Fire Co.
After moving back to the DuBois area, Burgeson said he joined the Sandy Township Fire Department in 2008, where he has been a member of the North Point Fire Co., based in Treasure Lake, and one of the department’s four fire companies.
Burgeson said what he likes most about being a firefighter is the satisfaction of being able to help someone in need regardless of the emergency.
”It’s typically the worst day in someone’s life and to be a part of the team helping them get through their emergency is a great feeling,” he said.
One who aspires to become a fire chief should have many important qualities, said Burgeson, such as strategic thinking skills, accountability, reliability, dedication, passion and a strong work ethic, to name a few.
In the township’s fire department, a person must be one of the chiefs of the four companies for at least five years and must be the chief the year prior to running for the department chief position, said Burgeson. The individual must also have at the minimum the following certifications — incident command classes (NIMS), four mods of firefighting or equivalent, basic vehicle rescue, Haz-mat operations, emergency vehicle operations, highway incident safety and CPR/first aid.
Starting at the bottom and working his way up to the department chief’s position has been a lifelong goal for Burgeson since he joined the fire service as a junior member.
“Being a part of the organization, I want to be the best I can be,” he said.
As chief, Burgeson said he would like to continue the progress of the department, improve communications and make a positive impact on the department.
“Being able to watch the fire department continue to grow, while helping the community all at the same time is the most rewarding aspect as chief,” said Burgeson, while stepping aside from being one of the members doing the work to being the guy to help direct the work is the most challenging.
Burgeson admits that being the department chief or chief of one of the four companies means sacrificing much time away from one’s family and other interests.
“The fire service is a business that you and your members run for free on top of your regular full-time job,” said Burgeson. “You have meetings, trainings, incidents, grants, etc. That all takes hours and days a month that you need to juggle around your family life. I have an amazing fiancé, Andrea Vollmer, and we plan to get married this year. We have a beautiful baby girl named Sophia.”
Something the community may not be aware of about the fire department is that it is 100 percent volunteer, he said.
“A lot of people think we are paid services and staff the fire stations 24/7. This is not true,” said Burgeson. “We rely heavily on donations and fundraisers to help continue providing services, with the best equipment possible.”
Burgeson noted that he has several assistants, including Bill Beers Jr. from Station 36 (West Sandy), Joe Runyon from Station 37 (Oklahoma), Steve Dunlap from Station 38 (Adrian) and Jon Uren from Station 39 (North Point).
With approximately 80 active members in the township fire department, Burgeson said they can never have enough volunteers.
“No matter if they are active firefighters or social members, there is always a job that can be done if you are willing to dedicate the time to help the community,” he said. “Please if you are interested in helping the community, all fire companies today need help. This can be as simple as just helping keep the station and/or equipment cleaned, going on fire calls, to being an administration officer, or helping fundraise. Any help at all is always greatly appreciated.”
If someone plans to join as an active firefighter, Burgeson said it’s important not to dive in head first.
“They should take the training as they can,” he said. “A lot of people think they need to take every training opportunity they can the first year of joining and it will take a toll on not only yourself but your family,” he said. “We all are learning every day even after all of our years of service and training we have.”
A graduate of Johnsonburg Area High School, Burgeson earned his associate’s degree in maintenance electricity, as well as his national certification in Anhydrous Ammonia Commercial Refrigeration. He is employed at DuBois Logistics as a maintenance and refrigeration technician.
“Being chief in general is a huge responsibility and it is an honor to achieve, joining the ranks of so many great chiefs present and past,” said Burgeson. “I would also like to thank my family and friends for their sacrifices and support during this process and for my entire career as a firefighter. Without it, this would not be possible.”