Not every firefighter grows up wanting to be one. Mark Hofmann Jr. of the Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company even resented the fire service as a child, because it kept both of his parents so busy. They met as firefighters in Baltimore in the 1980s and were often out on calls. Their service set an example, however, and by the time Hofmann was a teenager, he wanted to try it out too.
That was in 2005, and the rest is history. It’s now a whole-family avocation, with both Hofmann’s parents still involved in public safety. While there are many reasons he’s stuck with it over the years, putting in at least 24 hours per week, one stands out above the rest. “At the end of the day, I truly love the fire department,” he says. “It sounds nerdy, but you just do the right thing.”
In addition to the positive experience, volunteering in the fire service has made Hofmann lifelong friends that have become a second family.
That said, he warns prospective volunteers not to get too focused on the social aspects. “It’s easy to get distracted,” he says. “But stay focused on why you came and focus on that. The number one job is to show up and make sure you do the best you can. Everything else is ancillary.”
Sometimes the best and worst moments are all one, such as a call not long ago, when Hofmann helped pull a woman out of a house fire where multiple other people died. These times are about “finding the lightness in the dark,” he says.
Hofmann also looks to the rest of the community for inspiration. “We got close with a family that came into firehouse,” he says. The boy loved firetrucks—and also had leukemia. The family began visiting regularly, and members began visiting the family at their home. Happily, the boy is now in remission. As a way to return the fire company’s support, his mother started a fundraiser to help them create a larger bunk room.
This addressed a major issue, because as one of the busiest stations in the county, Joppa-Magnolia has many live-in members, and there just wasn’t enough space for them. So, the mother sought funds from the community to provide a massive bunk room as well as more bay space, Hofmann says. And because she was so vocal, they received government funding as well.
Hofmann says that when becoming a volunteer, honesty, responsibility, and attention to detail are the foundation for everything else. Taking responsibility for yourself leads to taking responsibility for your crew and your patients, he says. Nothing makes him prouder than seeing
someone he taught put on their gear for the first time and start making good decisions.
Beyond that, “Be a sponge and soak in everything,” he says. “Be a life-long learner.”