Volunteer firefighter Mike Kesling repays village that raised him

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Brooklyn - posted Mon., Jun. 3, 2013
Michael Kesling will celebrate 10 years as a volunteer firefighter this fall. Photos by Denise Coffey.
Michael Kesling will celebrate 10 years as a volunteer firefighter this fall. Photos by Denise Coffey.

Michael Kesling was just 4 years old when he and his family moved to Brooklyn. He grew up in its schools, played Little League ball, and went up the ranks of the Boy Scouts, achieving Eagle Scout status. “The village raised me,” he said. Volunteering for the fire department is one way he is giving back.

“I was always interested in being a first responder,” he said. The 26-year-old has risen through the East Brooklyn Fire Department ranks and is now a lieutenant. He'll celebrate his 10-year anniversary as a volunteer this October.

Kesling is one of an army of volunteer firefighters in the Quiet Corner. Out of 16 towns in Windham County, only one has a paid force of firefighters. The other towns rely on the generosity of the men and women willing to answer the call for help. But responding to a fire or an accident or answering a service call also requires those volunteers to be trained appropriately.

Firefighter I and II courses are offered by the state. Volunteers are generally reimbursed by their towns when they pass these courses. But the learning doesn't end there. Training is constant and ongoing. For Kesling and his East Brooklyn squad, Mondays are key.

The first Monday of every month is a business meeting. Training sessions are held on other Monday nights. There are all kinds of training, but not all of it is required, Kesling said. “You can get as involved as you want,” he said.

Kesling is very involved. He usually spends Thursdays at the station, doing administrative work and making sure equipment is ready to go when the department is called upon. Kesling and a few others have taken on the responsibility of filing reports through the National Fire Incident Reporting System. It is the largest national fire incident database, and all fire departments in Connecticut are required to file the reports.

Brooklyn receives between 300 and 340 calls a year. They range from medical calls, to accidents, to service calls. “You never know what you're going to get,” he said. And he never knows when his pager will go off. When it does, it will tell him where the incident is, what stations are reporting, what radio channel they will operate on, and what the closest cross streets are.

“He's the epitome of a volunteer,” said Deputy Chief Tim Brown. “He doesn't ask, 'What's in it for me?'” Brown has been a volunteer with the EBFD since 1980. He's seen a decline in volunteers over the years, and that troubles him. 

“We need volunteers to keep the tax rate down,” Brown said. “Otherwise we'd need $1.2 million for a paid fire department.” He hopes the town's purchase of a $550,000 rescue/pumper and the public demonstrations the department plans to hold will encourage more residents to join the force. The force has 34 members and it can carry 40.

Brown and Chief James Warren worked for years on “designing” the perfect truck for Brooklyn. It is outfitted with extrication tools in an oversize front bumper, color coded Mercedes hoses, drawers to hold an array of tools, and room for the department to grow into. “Its design is based on the needs of the community,” Brown said. They kept the truck small but wanted to have lots of storage. Brooklyn is a hydrant district with 45 fire hydrants. The need for a truck to hold a large quantity of water wasn't as important as storage for a variety of tools. The tank is coupled with fire-retardant foam capabilities.

“We couldn't have gotten it without the community's support,” Brown said. “We'll be able to save lives with it."

Brooklyn is served by the East Brooklyn and Mortlake fire stations. For more information on volunteering, please visit www.brooklynct.org or visit the East Brooklyn station on South Main Street.

Contact Mortlake Fire Station at 860-774-7555 or go to www.mortlakefire.com.

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