The tragic fire that engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral compels me to write about services that we take for granted, right up until the moment we suddenly need them ourselves.

I have the utmost respect for professionals who decide to make a career of firefighting; but this week I will be focusing on the nation’s VOLUNTEER fire departments, made up of citizens who work for free or a nominal amount or at least a written guarantee that all emergency calls will last long enough for their spouse to get the kids’ homework and baths tended to. (“Darn, honey! That happens every time!”)

According to the National Fire Protection Association, 69 percent of firefighters in the United States are volunteers. Of these volunteers, fully 99 percent give of their precious time cheerfully, dutifully risking life and limb for the public good. The other one percent meander around muttering, “I thought there would be volunteer DALMATIANS. I knew we shouldn’t have performed CPR on Cruella De Vil.”

Whether it’s lightning strikes, improper storage of volatile liquids, arson or Hubert falling asleep while operating a deep fryer in bed (again), our homes, businesses, vehicles and outbuildings are always just one step away from disaster. And the nation’s intrepid volunteer firefighters are out there selflessly Doing The Jobs Other Americans Just Won’t Do (Unless They Can Bring Marshmallows And A Selfie Stick).

In a way, always-on-call volunteer firefighters are like honorary descendants of the Revolutionary War Minutemen. Considering that, it’s amazing the firefighters haven’t received more pushback from “woke” victims of fire. (“My condo can burn down for all I care. You’re not spraying anything until I see documentation that you do not own slaves.”)

Volunteer fire departments vary widely in their resources, manpower level and training. If there aren’t enough funds from municipalities, corporate donors and individuals, conditions may remain downright primitive. (“This… is fire. And if Joe can just perfect the wheel, we’ll be able to drive the fire truck to the scene of the fires! Assuming the rain gods don’t beat us to extinguishing the flames.”)

Some volunteer fire departments may be blessed to have members who are also community first responders, emergency medical technicians or hazardous material response experts. The most envied fire departments have a certified bear whisperer on duty. A bear whisperer is typically employed to entice Smokey the Bear to double down on his warnings. (“Remember: only you can prevent forest fires. And only a tranquilizer gun can prevent me from disemboweling you if I catch you throwing cigarette butts on the roadside again, you rotten little… “)

Volunteer fire departments that host an “open house” can really connect with the public, provide safety tips and answer Frequently Asked Questions from youngsters. (“Have you thought about marketing that cool game where Momma and Daddy make us all turn out the lights and hide in the closet when you come asking for donations?”)

Especially in tightly knit rural communities, there is a strong emotional attachment when firefighters make emergency calls. There’s your old high school coach’s workshop. There’s the home of the teenager who carries your groceries to the car. There’s the apartment of the newlywed couple whom you gave that second-hand toaster oven with the badly frayed electrical cord…

“Um, think I’d better sit this one out, guys. Really dying to study Beowulf and advanced calculus with the kids.”

Copyright 2019 Danny Tyree. Danny welcomes email responses at [email protected] and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.” Danny’s weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.