Instead of sleeping in, volunteer firefighters from Solon Springs kicked off their Labor Day weekend by suiting up and battling flames in the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College burn trailer Saturday, Sept. 1.
"The teamwork, the camaraderie, the adrenaline, all of that stuff comes into play for this," firefighter Tom Davidson said.
In 2017, the department responded to 160 calls - 29 of them fires. Training is key, Fire Chief Jonathon Brostowitz said.
"We train like crazy," he said. "This year, we had live burn training and we had extrication training, ladders, ropes, debriefing on major accidents."
They've trained with Canadian National Railroad, Enbridge, Lifeflight and more.
"The requirement is 24 hours of training for firefighter for the year," Brostowitz said. "We supercede that."
Although firefighters don't have to attend every training, each piece makes the department stronger.
"What you put into it is what you get out of it, I guess," said Logan Sevre, who joined the department in January.
He was one of nine firefighters who extinguished flames over and over again Saturday, rescuing a downed firefighter and testing communications along the way.
When Sevre moved to Solon Springs from the Twin Cities, he was seeking a volunteer opportunity. Although he'd been involved with Habitat for Humanity in the Twin Cities, he chose an option a little closer to home.
"I live a couple of blocks away from the fire department," Sevre said. "I think it's beneficial to give back to the community you live in, especially one as small as this."
It's been a positive experience.
"Honestly, this is probably the most fun volunteer work I've ever done," Sevre said.
Like his fellow firefighters, he gave up a good chunk of his Saturday to use the live burn trailer. It offered them a chance to familiarize themselves with heat, fire, water, steam and safety tactics in a low-pressure environment, Brostowitz said. They could even critique each other and rerun scenarios to test tactics.
The burn trailer travels throughout WITC's 11-county district.
"It's never parked for long," WITC fire instructor Ryan Buhrow said.
A volunteer firefighter for Rice Lake, he sees a lot of value in the mobile prop.
"They can do real-life scenarios in there without too much danger," Buhrow said. "It's a pretty safe prop to use. We have live fire in there, but it's a controlled live fire so we don't have to worry about injuring anybody in there, but it gives them real fire training. I think it's pretty necessary, really."
The Solon Springs department has 34 volunteer firefighters, many of them younger. But some Douglas County departments are struggling.
Highland Fire Chief Ron Cairns said the department has about five active firefighters, but no emergency medical responders. He knows of at least three other Douglas County fire departments with no medical first responders, and that's a problem. It can lead to gaps in coverage and long wait times.
"In my opinion, the faster you can get there with trained people, the better," he said. "Gold Cross can only do so much."
The nearest ambulance could be in Duluth when they get a call to Highland, he said.
A increase in state testing and schooling demands are part of the reason for the decline in medical volunteers, Cairns said.
"They forget these people are volunteers," he said.
Douglas County volunteer fire departments are searching for people willing to be there for their neighbors when emergencies occur.
"I would encourage folks to do it and I would encourage folks to put as much time as you can into it, free time," Sevre said. "It's a lot of fun. You get to do stuff like this."
Departments pay for training, and volunteers back each other up.
"I don't know of any other organization that's as supportive," Cairns said.
To learn more about becoming a volunteer, talk to a local firefighter.
"When you see cars at the fire station, stop by and say, 'Hi,'" Brostowitz said.