VERGENNES — Sometimes it’s the little things that make life sweeter.
Other times, it’s the big things — like a donated emergency response truck to a little village living on a tight budget.
The Byron Fire Protection District board gifted that truck on Friday to the Vergennes Fire Department in an exchange that took place at the Walmart parking lot in Carbondale.
It was a five-hour haul for Byron Fire Protection District board member Jeff Bain to Carbondale. But Bain said he didn’t mind the trip south. He used it as an excuse to work in a visit with his daughter who lives in Pinckneyville. Bain said he’s familiar with the region because after his daughter attended SIU, she married a man from Southern Illinois and stayed.
Bain, a retired Illinois state trooper who serves on the board in Byron, which neighbors Rockford, said it feels good to help out a fire district in need. That northern community used the 1995 truck for its dive response team that is called to water-related emergencies. The fire district recently purchased an upgraded truck. Then, the board engaged in discussions about whether it should sell the truck or donate it, he said.
“We were more prone to give it away to help out another fire department that isn’t as fortunate as us," he said.
Bain said the Byron Fire Protection District has a budget in the millions, thanks in large part to the Exelon-owned nuclear power plant that is located just outside the city limits in unincorporated Ogle County, but within the taxing district of the fire board.
In making its decision, Bain said that board members recognized that there are many departments with needs throughout the state, but they really wanted it to go to a small department that is truly financially struggling. The type of truck donated costs about a quarter-million dollars purchased new, he said.
The budget for the all-volunteer fire department in Vergennes is only about $8,000, said Trish Sherman, who is a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical responder, as well as the office manager for the Village of Vergennes. She said this will be the newest truck the village owns. Other vehicles they own date back to the 1970s and 1980s, she said. Without the generation donation of Byron's fire district, Vergennes would not have been able to afford this truck, she said.
Vergennes is a Jackson County community of about 300 people, about 20 miles north of Carbondale. The fire department serves the village and the surrounding areas, covering fire and emergency response calls for about a 300-square-mile radius, she said. Volunteer emergency responders are often the first on the scene for medical calls and are trained to begin the care process — for someone experiencing a heart attack, for instance — while awaiting the arrival of Jackson County Ambulance paramedics, which may have farther to travel.
Vergennes Fire Department will use its newly acquired truck as a medical response vehicle, she said. It will also be equipped with vehicle extrication equipment for responding to car crashes where someone is trapped, she said. Presently, when Vergennes responds to a car accident, it requires taking both a medical truck and a fire truck with excavation equipment to the scene of an accident. But that presents a challenge if only one volunteer is available to respond immediately, as that person obviously can’t drive both vehicles.
This gives the department greater flexibility, she said. Because the medical truck is air conditioned, it also can be used at the scenes of fires and other incidents as a place where first responders can cool off as needed.
“It’s a brotherhood,” Sherman said of firefighters everywhere. “It’s one brotherhood helping out another.”
The two fire departments were connected through Amboy-based Dinges Fire Company owner Nick Dinges, said Sherman and Bain. Amboy sells equipment to fire departments, but often helps broker exchanges between departments that have and those that need.
Sherman said that it wasn’t long after she mentioned that the village could use a new medical response truck that he called with news one would soon be on its way.
Sherman said this type of exchange happens probably a lot more often than the general public is aware.
“A lot of people who are civilians don’t realize how good fire departments are to each other and how big the brotherhood is,” she said. “It’s that way all over the world. It’s a brotherhood. We understand each other. We’ve seen bad and good.”
There are 10 volunteer firefighters serving Vergennes, and the village is always looking for more, said Matt Hardwig, assistant fire chief for the village. Hardwig, who has served with the department for 21 years, said he’s grateful for the donation and said the truck with undoubtedly be put to good use.
As the exchange took place, a curious person driving through the Walmart parking lot stopped to ask what was going on. After Sherman explained it to him, the man said he thought the truck was a wonderful gift.
“I just really wanted to say God bless each and every one of you,” he added. “I pray God’s safety and protection for you and your family. Have a great holiday season.”
The man drove away. Shortly after that, so did the big red truck on its way to Vergennes.
On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI
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