National Fire Prevention Week kicks off Oct. 9-15. It’s a time when we all check our smoke detectors and update our fire extinguishers; at the same time school children across the nation receive fire safety lessons from city fire departments or local volunteer departments.

A fire is a tragedy that we hope will never happen to anyone we know. Yet, it happened to my family. On May 20, 2014, a fire struck my parents’ farmhouse. It started at 9:30 in the morning and engulfed their big old farmhouse within 30 minutes. My mom was home and barely escaped with her two cats and two dogs. I arrived at the farm about 10 a.m. and was mortified to see how quickly the fire had spread. It was gut-wrenching to stand on the sidelines and watch the farmhouse that had been in my father’s family for almost 150 years go up in smoke. The conditions that day were ripe for a fire; the winds were comparable to Santa Ana winds and the property was dry. The only thing that saved the barn was a farm pond about 100 feet from the house and the fact that the howling winds were blowing away from the structure.

The firemen and women were the real saviors that day, however. Because of the size of the buildings, eight fire departments were called to fight the blaze. Out of those eight departments, the majority of firefighters were volunteers. The high school even let the junior firefighters out of classes to help battle the blaze. To me these young heroes are just as important as the school football quarterback.

In the United States, 69 percent of firefighters are volunteers – the people who selflessly serve their communities. Rural towns could not survive without these dedicated men and women. The majority of fire departments in the United States are volunteers – out of 29,980 departments, 19,915 are totally volunteer. Only 2,440 are career units, and the other 7,625 are a mix of career and volunteers. Volunteer firemen and women have to attend hours of rigorous training. Many times they purchase their own gear. To fund the departments the firefighters have to put on fundraising activities. In addition to hours spent fighting fires and training, they are expected to raise money to buy the equipment necessary to fight fires. I strongly urge you to support your local department if they are hosting a dance, chicken barbecue, auction or booth at the county fair.

Another group that supports local victims is the Red Cross. I always thought the Red Cross only stepped into major disasters like Hurricane Katrina. Not true. At 1:30 p.m. that day two representatives from the local Red Cross were sitting at my kitchen table with me and my mother. They helped her fill out paperwork and get vouchers for clothing and other necessary items and provided toiletries. When people have a fire, they lose everything. Now every time I get a solicitation from the Northern Vermont Red Cross unit, I send a donation. Please support them, too. Your family may need both of these organizations someday.