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Volunteering leads to career for firefighter





If you want to have a career as a firefighter, one way to reach that goal is to start as a volunteer.

That's how Brandon Woods did it.

Woods, who was working the "C" shift last week for the Hays Fire Department, became a volunteer firefighter for the department in January 2011, then in October made it full-time. Woods grew up in Junction City and went to high school in Hutchinson, where he also got his firefighting certificate.

Woods applied for volunteer positions, which landed him in Hays.

"Worked out, had a couple friends in college, got to shack up with them a little bit to get started," Woods said. "I love it here -- small town."

The Hays Fire Department takes applications for volunteer firefighters once a year and is doing so until Sept. 14.

"We got plenty of (full-time firefighters) who started out as volunteer firefighters," said Hays Fire Chief Gary Brown. "The volunteer firefighters provide extra staffing to help us out with major emergencies."

Woods, 26, is one of 21 full-time firefighters divided into three shifts. He works 24 hours on, then has 48 hours off.

But on a major call, everybody comes running, on duty or not.

For Woods, one of the best parts of the job doesn't involve driving the truck or fighting a fire; it's something else.

"The cheesy thing is, everyone says they like the big fires, all that -- I love it when the kids come in for tours, get to see their faces," he said. "They'll ask you the most off-the-wall questions.

"Of course, they all want to know where the dog is."

There's no dog at the firehouse, but plenty of camaraderie.

"We have a great group, we all kind of get along together," Woods said.

Having volunteers helps fill full-time positions with experienced firefighters, Brown said.

"When we would have a vacancy, they're already trained and certified, so they can step into a career position and start work right away, as opposed to being a trainee," he said.

For Woods, he can't think of doing anything else.

"I can't guarantee I'll be in Hays -- I hope so -- but I see me in this career until I can retire," he said. "I would say being a volunteer is a great step for someone wanting to become a full-time firefighter."