Matt Goodwin’s brother was a firefighter at Abingdon, and was always trying to get Goodwin to join. But with a full-time job, two kids, and travel, Goodwin always made excuses. Then three years ago, his brother committed suicide. Goodwin decided to carry on his legacy, and now drives an hour to get to the station so he can serve the same fire company his brother served.
Goodwin finds meaning in being part of the same brotherhood, even though his own brother is gone. “It’s a bond,” he says, which he likens to his previous experience in the military. The members are always willing to help each other out and to teach each other new things, he says.
After holding out on joining for so long, he now thrives on providing a community impact. “Every call we go on impacts someone in the community some way,” he says. His most rewarding experiences include fire suppression, so the least amount of damage is done to people’s property, and Santa detail. “We get to see the kids come out and smile,” he says. “I look forward to that each year.”
One time he was especially proud of his crew was when they rescued an older woman who’d become locked in her house. “We worked as a team to figure out that a window upstairs was unlocked,” he says, “and we were able to get her out safely from her home.”
Goodwin warns that joining the fire service is a serious endeavor. “It’s a dangerous thing. It’s not the Boy Scouts,” he says. That said, if you do commit the time, it automatically keeps you engaged. “There is lots of training you need to do to be up to speed,” he says. “It forces you to be engaged. You have to be engaged, and that’s why the fire department has rules on training and staying up to speed.”
For anyone considering joining the HCVFA, Goodwin says time is the biggest factor that new members need to embrace. “It’s a lot of dedicated time,” he says, “but it’s time well spent. There’s an investment.” New members may not last if they’re not willing to commit the time or to ask questions, he says, but it’s important to reach out and ask.
He also recommends that new members be able to call on their compassion, so they can be at their best when others are at their worst—no matter what kind of day they’re having themselves. “These people called for a reason. They need you, and it’s important to be compassionate,” he says.
Ultimately, his passion and commitment come down to the brotherhood. “I call them brothers for a reason—they’re there for me when I need them,” he says. You’ll see a lot of bad things, he notes, and these are the people who will understand what you’re going through.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out, and don’t bottle up your feelings,” he advises. “Don’t get to the point of my brother, where you let it get to a point where you take your life. There is no shame in telling someone you’re hurting or need help.”