Since his first day on the job seven years ago, firefighter Mitch Holmes has been viewed a leader on the North Branch Fire Department.
He has been the first to volunteer at all community events and activities put on by the department. He has been responsible for organizing and leading numerous fire department tours, child care visits, extrication demonstrations, fire department open houses, community expos and many other activities.
For his leadership and ongoing efforts with the department, North Branch American Legion Post 85 has named Holmes its Outstanding Firefighter of the Year.
“Mitch has taken the first year enthusiasm and has continued it every year he has been on the department,” North Branch Fire Chief Kevin Grote said.
Holmes, who serves as the department’s public education coordinator, recently shared his thoughts about the honor and his involvement on the fire department in a Q and A session with the Post Review:
Q: What does the American Legion honor mean to you?
A: I am truly touched to have been selected as Firefighter of the Year by American Legion Post 85. It’s an honor to have my work recognized by a group of people that have sacrificed so much and fought so hard to ensure a better life for my family and the rest of our country.
Q: Why did you become a firefighter, and what keeps you motivated?
A: My decision to become a firefighter came at a time when I was ready for a new life challenge. With my children nearly grown and becoming less dependent on me by the day, I needed to find another spark of adventure. I had been performing maintenance repairs on the North Branch fire trucks for a couple years and knew most of the members on the department.
A few of the members had been trying to get me to join for quite a while. With the support of my family and our financial stability, I was at a point in my life where I could afford to make the commitment to serve our community and its residents.
Q: Talk about the position you currently hold with the department.
A: My success as public education coordinator over the past three years is due in part to the help and support I receive from the rest of the department members.
Q: What’s the most rewarding part of the job, and what’s the most challenging part?
A: The most rewarding part of my job is when community members recognize and acknowledge me as a fire department member. I also enjoy seeing all the kids at community events. We frequently quiz them on what they learned during Fire Prevention Week at the schools and day care facilities. It is a great feeling to hear them answer questions correctly and reaffirm that we are making a positive impact on their lives.
The most challenging part of my job is when we are tasked with the job of freeing people that are entrapped or pinned. No two situations are ever the same, but our goal remains constant; we have to efficiently remove them from the situation they are in while causing them as little additional discomfort as possible.
Another challenge of the job is fighting fires in hot temperatures while wearing our personal protective gear. The gear is made to protect us from the hazards of extreme heat and fire, but at times it can become a hazard itself by causing us to overheat while we perform our duties.
Q: Advice for younger and new firefighters? If they’re thinking about joining their volunteer fire department, what should they know or plan for?
A: My advice to younger firefighters would be to make sure you educate yourself on the job and know in your heart that it is something you want to do. Plan on many hours of training, many hours of community service and many hours of really hard work. Understand that you are not doing it for the money but rather for the betterment of the fire department and the safety of your community.
It is also important to know that while we spend a great deal of time putting out fires, responding to car accidents, checking out alarms and assisting EMS, we spend just as much time training on our jobs and participating in numerous community events throughout the year.