For Holly Testerman, serving the fire department is about people helping people—not just in the moment of an emergency, but in the ongoing efforts to help those less fortunate. For her, this has included assisting a family after a house fire, and those in need of support during the Covid crisis.
Testerman got involved through her fire-service oriented family. “It’s in our blood,” she says. Her family ties include her father, who was a city firefighter for 30 years, her brother, who was a battalion chief, and both of her daughters, who also serve at Norrisville—showing that inspiration goes both ways through the generations. “My daughter is part of the reason I joined,” Testerman says.
She now loves being at a small fire company with about 30 active members who have become an extended family, and carry their friendships beyond the firehouse.
“I love it. I love doing it,” she says. Her favorite part is holding events, including their open house. “Making people feel better is all that matters,” she says. “Making strong connections with members of the community.”
One of her strongest memories includes an incident several years ago, following a house fire on Christmas Day. The home burned to the ground. “The family was safe, but they lost everything,” Testerman says. Within a short time, hundreds of community members came together to salvage anything possible, to prepare the site for the new house, and to arrange for housing for the family for over a year. The fire department stored community-donated clothes, furniture, and other items at the station until the family was ready for them.
“It truly was the most amazing thing I have ever seen,” she said. “I have always been proud of where I live, but that day I could not have been prouder. It was a site to behold. This is the definition of Norrisville.”
For those who might like to join a fire company, Testerman says you need a strong stomach and a love for what you do. “It has to be your passion,” she says, “whether it’s support or fire or EMS.” She adds that you need a special mindset to remember that each incident is not your emergency—you’re there to be a steady presence for the individuals you’re serving.
Apart from gaining a second family and the satisfaction of helping your community, there are tangible benefits, Testerman adds. These include tax incentives and a Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP), which works like a pension program to provide financial awards to volunteers.
There is also free education. “They pay for you to take the classes to become a medic or EMT,” Testerman says, and that can also hold value for your outside life and career. “If you can’t go to college for this because of cost, the department will pay for your training,” she says.
She adds that one of her daughters received a scholarship due to her community service, which paid for her nursing degree. That scholarship came from the Charley Riley Community Service Scholarship Foundation for community members of Harford County.
Recognition also comes in smaller forms. Testerman recalls an incident after which she spent her own time sifting through fire debris to find salvageable items that were thrown from a window. The victim posted a picture of her online to find out who she was, and to be able to thank her.
But with or without recognition, “I’m proud of my team all the time,” she says.