Father and son Barry Emerson and Scott Emerson have combined for more than 70 years in the fire service.
Barry, the Jackson Township fire chief, and Scott, the assistant chief, met with a reporter at the fire station on Adams Avenue — where they shared their thoughts on the dangers and the rewards of serving as a volunteer firefighter.
The Emersons lead a team of 45 active members that includes several women. The department operates Jackson-East Taylor Water Rescue Team (JET) with the neighboring fire company, and houses the Jackson Township EMS.
The job is not for the faint of heart.
“Everything we do is dangerous,” Barry Emerson said. “Very few people can do this job.
“You’re either in a burning building or under water,” he said. “You’re trying to save somebody’s life and save their belongings.”
Barry Emerson, 68, started in the fire services at age 16 and has been fire chief for three years.
He looks at the department’s membership ranks — which includes many members in their 30s — and fondly calls them kids.
“We’ve got a good group of kids,” he said. “They make me look good. I tell them that all the time, because they do their job so well.”
The role of the fire chief is to get every firefighter back safely, Barry Emerson said. When he’s not available, he said the emergency call is in good hands.
“These guys can handle any call if I’m not there,” the chief said. “It’s not a problem. They know what to do.”
One of those guys is son Scott, 40. His resume features 24 years in the fire service, including two years as assistant chief.
The Emerson family once lived near the fire station — where Scott basically grew up.
“When I was little, I spent most of my time here working on the trucks or helping with sub sales,” he said. “It instilled in me the idea that you want to help people.”
Barry Emerson said the volunteers sometimes deal with death. The memories of an unfortunate outcome can linger.
That’s when the chief steps in.
“If you can’t sleep at night because of a bad call, you call me and we’ll talk about it,” he said. “Forever, if that’s what it takes.”
Other emergency calls are far from tragic, Scott Emerson said.
“We’ve gotten cats down from trees, rescued a dog off the ice and got a parrot down from a tree,” he said. “The old adage of helping your neighbor, that’s what we do here.”
Residents support fire company fundraisers, and the township’s supervisors are quick to offer their help when equipment is needed, the Emersons said.
And yet there is another group the firefighters won’t leave unmentioned: The wives.
“We need to give them a special shout-out,” said Scott Emerson, who is married to Michelle Emerson and is father to son Cameron, 12.
“When we leave the house in the middle of the night, they’re the ones who are there for you after a bad call.”
As in most communities, illicit drug use is rampant. Firefighters routinely accompany the EMS crew when there is a drug overdose.
After medics revive the patient with the opioid-antidote Narcan, that person can become combative, Scott Emerson said.
“They’ve got a bunch of people standing around them they don’t know and some people just start fighting,” he said. “We have to be there to assist.”
Added Barry Emerson: “If you want to take a poke at one of our EMS people and you’ve got 12 or 15 firemen standing there looking at you, you’re going to think twice.”
Patrick Buchnowski is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5061. Follow him on Twitter @PatBuchnowskiTD.
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