Lake Norman & Mooresville

Volunteer firefighters give much to the community

It takes a lot of commitment to keep Mooresville safe. Volunteer - emphasis on that word - firefighters make that commitment.

Rob Friedman, 48, is an example. For the second year, Shepherds Fire-Rescue has selected him as Firefighter of the Year, an honor he is quick to tell me he is sharing this year with fellow firefighter Shawn Rowe.

Friedman didn't want this story to be about him, but about the team of volunteers firefighters that works together to serve the residents of Mooresville and Iredell County.

"It takes a commitment to the community and in helping other people," Friedman said. "I've always been interested in helping people."

He has been a volunteer firefighter since 1997, starting in Iowa, and has been with the Shepherds team since 2004. So far this year, Friedman has answered 168 calls, in addition to working his full-time job in Charlotte at FIS as a senior network technician. Each year he is required to get the same amount of training as a full-time firefighter: 48 hours, mostly in the classroom. He works it in around his job.

"I like to help people," he said. "I love doing it. I get an adrenaline rush when the pager goes off and you have an actual fire working, and you're going to help somebody."

The physical side of being a volunteer firefighter requires dedication. Friedman works out four days a week, usually at Planet Fitness.

"If I don't work out, I noticed it's harder to keep up with the younger guys," he said.

This is the busy time of a firefighter's season. With the cooler weather, furnaces and fireplaces are being used more often. The saddest moment in his firefighting work, he said, was when he responded to a call for an accident on Interstate 77 and saw a woman die.

"That was pretty tough on me," he said. "Of course, counselors are provided, but coming to grips with that ... pretty much I had to do that on my own."

Friedman lives in Brantley Place, near Shepherds Fire-Rescue. And not only is he part of the team of firefighters serving the community, but it's a family affair, too. His son, Quintin, 15, is a member of the junior program.

Open to anyone ages 14-18, the program introduces young people to what it takes to become a firefighter and a team player. They learn procedures, receive training with the equipment and enjoy competition with other members from other counties and fire stations.

Jamie Barrier, deputy chief of Shepherds Fire-Rescue, joined the junior program when he was 12 and is now a career firefighter.

"(The program) kept me out of trouble," Barrier said. "The junior program molds them as a team, and they learn the team concept."

Friedman agreed: "I was in the Explorer program when I was young. I would not be doing this if I hadn't learned the team concept back then."

Barrier said, "We do our very best to (use) taxpayer money in the best interest of the community. We house over a million dollars worth of expensive equipment. Our building is here for the community. It has a community room."

If someone is interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter, Barrier said, "Anyone can walk in off the street, fill out an application and go through the membership committee."

Volunteer firefighters give us many gifts. They give their time to the residents of Mooresville and Iredell County; they give us monetary gifts - using their own vehicles, which require fuel and maintenance to drive to and from emergency calls.

The firefighters' greatest gift is their willingness to help when one of us needs help, any time of day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.