Fighting Fire A Tradition for Michigan Family

When the Port Austin Area Fire Department's whistle sounds throughout the tranquil lakeside village, many people take notice. Some even venture out to see what's going on. But that's nothing compared to the commotion the whistle causes in the Zimmerman...

``We have to drop whatever it is we're doing and go,'' Don Zimmerman said.

Port Austin Fire Chief Dave Schoenfeldt said while the Zimmerman family makes up a third of the volunteer department, it's not just the number that the family represents. It's their loyalty to the department and their interest in protecting their community that makes each of them so valuable.

With the fire department's regulations, Schoenfeldt said it's often hard to find people to volunteer who are willing to give up time to serve and undergo the training required to be a firefighter.

``Right now we don't have a single application for anyone else to join the department,'' Schoenfeldt said. ``We like to have about 18 to 20 firefighters.''

The Zimmerman twins just completed Firefighter One, hosted in Caro. Firefighter One is a six-month class of required fire safety training for all volunteer firefighters. Matt and Jason Zimmerman just completed their Firefighter Two training, which was hosted for firefighters in Pigeon. Aside from the state requiring volunteer firefighters to successfully complete the Firefighter One course, they also must complete 48 hours of in-house firefighter training each year.

Jim Collier, secretary for the Port Austin Area Fire Department, said the fire department spends about $1,000 per firefighter for the training required by the state.

``It's hard to get volunteers,'' Collier said. ``I'm proud that this family is a part of the Port Austin Area Fire Department.''

Kathy Zimmerman said she's always felt it was important for her sons to know how vital it is to serve their community.

``It's a big responsibility, when the pager goes off you don't just blow it off, you drop what you're doing and go,'' she said. ``There are people depending on you to be there.''

While Schoenfeldt agreed with Kathy Zimmerman that it can be tough persuading young people to give up so much time to be a volunteer firefighter, it's an effort worth every second's devotion.

``It's a great feeling to know that you were able to help someone, that you've tried your best to save their property,'' he said. ``If it weren't for volunteer firefighters, there wouldn't be a service. And that's not just here, that's all over the county.''