Sense of duty drives Soldier's volunteer efforts with local fire department
October 29, 2012
YELM, Wash. -- Bouncing from duty station to duty station in the Air Force with his father, Staff Sgt. Patrick Malone grew up fairly certain what he would do with his life.
"I always remember seeing him come home in uniform, and I just remember looking up to him, and that was always just stuck in my head," he said. "I knew I wanted to serve."
The military was definitely in the cards for the 17th Fires Brigade Soldier's future. Becoming a first responder for his community, however -- that never crossed his mind.
But nearly 20 years after committing to the profession he knew would fit him best, Malone's volunteer time with the Bald Hills Fire Department is one of the things he enjoys most in life.
"When you have that gut feeling about something you enjoy or you like doing, you just know it; it just feels right. And I just enjoy doing it," said Malone, who, for the past five years has given at least 24 hours of his time each month to the station, which is located about a mile down the road from his gated community in the backwoods of Yelm.
"I never thought I would get into this field," he admitted, looking back.
Soon, Malone will retire from the Army and, if all goes according to plan, start an entirely different career as a paramedic. But the two aren't as different as one might think.
"Being in the military, that wanting to serve -- it's the same aspect," Malone said. "It's an honorable job, people look up to it, and only so many people are willing to do that job."
Malone best sums up his dedication to volunteer with a scary thought that sometimes crosses his mind.
"It would be horrible if there were certain jobs people just didn't want to do," he said. "Well there are things in this world that wouldn't get done.
"If no one wanted to be a firefighter or emergency medical technician, who would do that job? Who would be the people to come?"
Malone, who serves as a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System section chief with 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery Regiment, also serves as an EMT for the Bald Hills station.
The department, located miles from Interstate 5 in the rural southeast corner of Thurston County, serves little more than 4,000 people. Situated off the side of a winding forest road -- the only way in and the only way out for most who live there -- the station is the first line of defense for the area's residents.
Career firefighters, Malone said, make good pay to respond to incidents in their communities, but for him and the more than 40 other volunteers at Bald Hills, the only incentive is a sense of duty.
"Our only motivation is doing it because we like it and doing it for the community," Malone said. "When you're a volunteer, you're still committed. It's just that we're doing this of our own freewill."
Of the approximately 45 firefighters and EMTs at the station, all but one are volunteers. Some of them are retirees, and some, like Malone, have full-time jobs.
They've responded at all hours of the day and night to suicide calls, vehicle wrecks and emergency births, among other alerts from area residents.
"Some just want to know we're there," Malone said.
But whatever the case, the satisfaction is the same.
"In the back of my mind, it's that satisfaction of knowing that we're the ones that get up at 2 o'clock in the morning when the pager goes off," he said. "There is nobody else coming; we're it."
"If we didn't enjoy doing it, we wouldn't be here," said Ronald Smith, a retired union worker who joined on with the station at the same time as Malone, in summer 2007. "If you didn't enjoy doing what you were doing, you wouldn't come."
Smith went through his first responder and firefighter basic training with Malone.
"He's an excellent EMT," he said of Malone. "He enjoys it, he's good at, and he can be very instructive."
He admires the commitment of volunteers, like Malone, who already serve the nation, to serve their local communities.
"They're dedicated to serving their country, but now that they're volunteering with the fire department, they're serving the community they live in, too," Smith said.
"That's the kind of people we like to leave the world behind with…"
Currently, Malone is also working part-time with Olympic Ambulance in support of Thurston County as he prepares to attend paramedic school in the near future, so that even after the Army he can dedicate his time to serving others.
"That general concept throughout the years of military training of the Army values, integrity, commitment -- yeah, that gets into you," Malone said. "That becomes part of you, especially after 19 years."
But no matter how much he gives to others, whether it makes him good money or occupies his spare time without much compensation, he aims to stay under the radar.
"I don't want a parade," he said. "They know we're there, and that's good enough.
"You know it's me, and you know I'm doing it, but I don't want a big fuss."