Rural volunteer firefighters are men who are willing to risk their lives out of a sense of responsibility to their neighbors, or as one chief describes them, "just a bunch of good old boys helping out good old boys."
Using donated and often repaired equipment and depending on dues and fundraisers like the chicken and noodles lunch that raised $379 for radios and other equipment last Sunday in Sheldon, they eagerly load up and go anytime day or night that a call comes in from the area they cover or from a neighboring department that's overwhelmed.
Vernon County also has such groups at Richards, Milo, Walker, Schell City, Compton Junction, Bronaugh and Deerfield, led respectively by Chiefs Billy Greer, Steve Zoglmann, Russell Hays, James Goodman, Tom Nowak, John Post, Paul Pitts and Bill Smith.
Sheldon Chief Bill Jeffries, who retired from the Nevada Fire Department in 2006 after 22 years, said Wednesday that the Sheldon VFD is in good shape with volunteers Don Pilcher, Jeff Bullard, Lloyd Gibson, Josh Jeffries, Tom Richards, Bryant Barker, Josh Bean, Nicole Jeffries, Mandy Gibson and Secretary and Resource Officer Nancy Jeffries.
They have a 1980 Ford F-800 pumper truck loaned by the Missouri Department of Conservation on condition that they keep in it good condition, a 60,000-watt generator, Chevrolet and Ford three-quarter-ton brush trucks built in the 1980s that haul a total of 700 gallons of water and their No. 1 piece of equipment, a 1981 Ford F-800 with only 13,000 miles on it that the Sheldon Board of Aldermen bought for $15,000 from the City of Tightwad in west central Missouri in late 2011.
Jeffries' other job is to repair trucks, an occupation he was pursuing Wednesday in Fort Scott and has recently been to St. Joseph and Arkansas for.
Smith, pastor of the Church of God (Holiness) at Deerfield, has been with the Deerfield VFD since soon after it was organized 35 years ago.
Chairing the Vernon County Local Emergency Planning Committee, Smith said volunteer firefighters are brave men motivated by a selfless desire to help their communities. "As one of my men said, 'We're just a bunch of good old boys helping out good old boys,'" he said.
"We do it as a service to our neighbors. The only thing you get is a feeling of accomplishment. Personally, we're not getting anything."
The Deerfield VFD answered 75 calls last year, which is average, including summonses from neighboring departments like Bronaugh. "I have nine men I can count on," said Smith, who also works in construction and as a mechanic.
"There are some months when we don't have a call, but during the grassfire season in the spring we may get more than one a day. Structure fires are the most dangerous. I'm very cautious about sending somebody into a burning house if nobody is in it because it's just not worth it. There's not a house in the country worth getting somebody hurt."
Smith said most of Vernon County's rural departments have been at work for at least 25 to 30 years.
Lauding the generosity of the Sheldon VFD's supporters, he said, "You can always use a little more help because expenses keep going up.
"A lot of people who live in the country don't realize that they ought to belong to a rural fire department because state law requires us to charge a hefty fee if they're not a member. The law allows us to get $500 to show up and $100 an hour after the first hour, but we don't usually charge that much.
"We get $200 to show up and $100 an hour after the first hour. A membership only costs $30 for a house and 20 acres and 10 cents an acre for more than 20 acres."
However, Smith said the departments do not charge one another for backup operations.