ON CALL FOR THE COMMUNITY
Story and photos by Clarice L. Kesler
Nearly a year after a tragic fire struck Cathy Klocke’s family home, she is still awe-inspired by the volunteers who saved it. She praises them for putting themselves at risk, while expecting nothing in return.
The day of the fire, Oct. 19, 2019, started like any other day for Klocke, a customer service representative at Northern Plains Electric Cooperative in Carrington. She heard the fire siren as she often did, and she quipped to her colleague, Jill, “Is that the fire whistle? Hope it’s not my house.” But within 15 minutes of hearing the siren, Klocke’s phone started ringing.
Callers told her flames from a fire that started in the family’s pole barn were shooting over their “shome” (a home and shop combined into one living quarters). Since the shome and pole barn were only 20 feet apart, Klocke feared she and her husband, David, would lose everything they’d worked for, including the family business, which took more than four decades to build.
Distraught, Cathy waited at the office while crews worked to put out the fire. Much to her relief, she soon heard from neighbors and friends that while the pole barn was a total loss, the fire department acted quickly enough to save their shome, which suffered no smoke damage.
“While it was happening, I just kept thinking, I’m just sitting here doing nothing and other people are volunteering to save my home,” Cathy says.
Those volunteers come from humble stock. They don’t do it for glory or honor; they do it because they truly feel rewarded by simply helping their community, says Tom Moravec, a lineworker and volunteer firefighter who helped save the Klocke home that day.
Volunteerism in his DNA
Born and raised in Bismarck, Moravec worked for other utilities before coming to Northern Plains Electric Cooperative. One of those utilities was Verendrye Electric Cooperative, where Moravec first volunteered to become a firefighter.
“My dad comes from law enforcement, so it’s kind of that ‘first-responder genetic’ I have, I guess,” says Moravec, who has served as a volunteer firefighter in Carrington for the past two years while working at Northern Plains Electric Cooperative.
Moravec joins six of his fellow lineworkers who are also volunteer firefighters. This is common at electric cooperatives across the state, where dozens of electric cooperative employees volunteer as first responders. Many of them are lineworkers. Directors and managers support such volunteerism, since commitment to community is a core value of cooperatives.
“Resources are limited in many of the rural areas that the cooperative serves and employees volunteering their time is one way to help support a community’s economic or social needs,” says Seth Syverson, Northern Plains Electric Cooperative general manager, adding that lineworkers and firefighters share a lot in common.
Both jobs are on call for the community, usually during times of duress. Both jobs also require lineworkers and firefighters to earn certifications, learn from on-the-job training and continue with education to improve response times, learn new techniques and perform the job as safely as possible.
“Sometimes, I’ll get a call and if it involves an electrical fire, I’ll need to decide if I should gear up as a lineman or a firefighter,” Moravec says.
Northern Plains Electric Cooperative strives to accommodate employees who are volunteer first responders and need release from their work duties, so they can respond to emergencies at the drop of a hat.
The day of the Klocke fire, Moravec geared up as a firefighter. And just like in his lineworker job, closely following safety protocols is critical. Even though he knew how to shut off the power due to his lineworker training, since he went to the scene as a first responder, not having the proper tools to do the job safely kept him from shutting the power off.
Moravec and the other 37 volunteer firefighters at Carrington Fire and Rescue are fortunate to have top-of-the-line fire trucks and equipment, including the Jaws of Life, which is used to assist vehicle extrication of crash victims, as well as other rescues from small spaces.
Co-op volunteers in EMS
You’ll also find many emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and emergency medical responders (EMRs) at electric cooperatives across the state, who are also critical volunteers in the community.
An EMT, who has a higher level of training and skills than an EMR, is specially trained and certified to administer basic emergency services to victims of trauma or acute illness before and during transportation to a hospital or other health care facility.
Northern Plains Electric Cooperative Director Curtis Wiesz became a member of the Fessenden Ambulance Service in 2006 and earned his EMT certification shortly after. Wiesz is grateful the co-op allows employees the time to volunteer for the community. Without it, he thinks crews like his would become a thing of the past and communities would suffer greatly.
“Volunteer services, such as fire departments, emergency medical services and rescue squads, work well as teams. Employers that encourage and allow employees to become part of volunteer services are indirectly part of these crucial community teams,” Wiesz says.
Both Wiesz and Moravec also enjoy the camaraderie with their fellow volunteers. Together, they work to build a foundation of safety for the communities they serve.
“I enjoy helping people, taking care of people, letting people know that I care,” Moravec says. “That is one of the main reasons I volunteer.”
First responders like Moravec and Wiesz are the silent heroes in the community, their work usually going unnoticed until an emergency arises. They offer help and hope to people like the Klocke family, who will be forever grateful to the volunteers who saved their home that fateful fall day.
Clarice L. Kesler is communications manager for the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives and serves on the Brand Strategies Committee for Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.