BEALLSVILLE - When Tom Coss joined the Beallsville Volunteer Fire Department in 1980, he never thought he would become its chief.
Originally from Bridgeport, Coss moved just outside of Beallsville with his wife, Carol Burkhart Coss, in 1972.
"We've gone through rough and good times," Coss said of the department. "Since I've been there, we've had two fire fatalities and several accident fatalities."
Beallsville Emergency Squad member Larry Paine talks about equipment used in the ambulance. The Beallsville Volunteer Fire Department was founded in 1954.
Photo by Shelley Hanson
Coss attributes the motor vehicle fatalities mostly to young drivers who simply drive too fast on the rural area's roads.
Coss became the department's chief two years ago and also served as its treasurer for many years. The department was established in 1954 by Charlie Brock. And while it officially has 25 members, typically 10-12 firefighters show up to a scene.
"We're getting older and the younger ones are not coming up - that's happening nationwide," Coss said.
Not only does being a volunteer firefighter require time and dedication, it also calls for a lot of training. A basic firefighter must have 36 hours of training. And each year, 18 hours of continued education is required. A professional firefighter must garner an initial 120 hours of training, he said.
But people volunteer because it's all about helping your neighbors.
"You're always helping somebody. I started and I just kept growing into it. I just wanted to be a firefighter and fight fires," Coss said.
He quipped now that he is chief, there's a lot of paperwork to do. But at the scene, it is still all hands on deck.
"Most people appreciate the time we spend. We hardly ever get bad-mouthing from people," Coss noted.
Assistant Chief Michael Datkuliak, who has been with the department 41 years, said many years ago the fire department built its own fire trucks from cabs and chassis. And when he joined the department at 15 years old, there were no age limitations. Now, one must be 18 years old to join.
Terry Hickman, now retired from the department, served as its chief from 1974-85 and later its emergency medical squad trainer. The e-squads across Monroe County now are independent of the volunteer fire departments and are funded by the county commission.
"It was part of my life for 60 years. I always relished the involvement. I wanted to give back to the community - and I couldn't find a better way to give to the community," Hickman said.
He noted like most departments, new volunteer firefighters and medics are always needed "regardless of gender."
Beallsville e-squad member Larry Paine said he joined after retirement thinking he would help out once a week.
"But I turned my life over to it," he said.