Melrose–A few years ago Mark “Bunker” and Pam Hill’s daughter, Brianna, was in a car accident. She called her dad, and he explained to her how things would work when emergency personnel arrived to help.

Hill’s experience as a firefighter and first responder came in handy.

“Folks are having one of the worst days in their lives and they expect somebody to show up,” he said.

In order for that to happen, people have to volunteer as local firefighters or emergency medical technicians (EMTs). 

“Everybody’s busy, with their lives, families, job, but you gotta step up and say, ‘I’m gonna volunteer for this organization,” he said.

Hills feels fortunate his current employer, Coborn’s in Melrose, allows him to take calls during the day. 

“He (his boss, Craig Zilka) was very receptive and said, ‘If you have to go, go,’” Hill recalls when first telling Zilka he was a firefighter hoping to go on daytime calls.   

The Melrose Fire Department is looking for five new firefighters, to fill their 30-member roster, said Tom Budde, fire chief. A person must be age 18 or older and fill out an application form that they can get at the Melrose City Center. 

“There’s an interview process, a basic physical agility test and once selected a physical at the city’s expense,” said Hill, adding, “You don’t have to be strong, you just have to be in fairly decent shape.”  

Once selected, Hill said, “we find you some gear, give you a pager and start you on the road.” 

That includes 180 hours of combined Essentials of Firefighting and First Responder EMS training, over a two-year span. There are monthly training meetings the first and third Mondays. 

Hill has been a firefighter for close to 39 years, dating back to 1979 when he was on fire and ambulance crews in Clarkfield where he and Pam lived before moving to Melrose. 

Smiling, he recalls one of his first firefighting calls near Clarkfield, one January in the late 1970s, when they wore long coats and long rubber boots. It was a barn fire, he thought about 2 ½ miles out of town but ended up being eight miles.  

“Back then we could ride on the back of the truck, so I jumped on the back of a truck. It was really cold. I got close to the fire to warm up,” said Hill.  

Training he received in Clarkfield sped up the process of him becoming a Melrose firefighter almost 25 years ago. 

“There was an opening, and I expressed an interest. I had the medical training and the essentials of a firefighter. It was a matter of learning the local protocols. Every agency does things a little differently,” said Hill.  

At the time Ralph Revermann was the fire chief. Since then Hill has worked under the helm of other fire chiefs, including Jeremy Kraemer and Tom Budde. Hill has held offices, including assistant chief and training officer. 

He explains new firefighters are assigned a mentor for the first 1 ½ years. 

“They get to a scene and tag along with their mentor who explains what needs to be done. Other times they will get together and open the doors on a truck and see where different equipment is stored,” said Hill. 

There are limitations when junior firefighters go on calls that first year. 

“A lot of times things start making sense as they piece together things,” he said. “They find a comfort level and get more assertive.” 

When responding to calls, there are jobs for everyone, Hill said. Firefighters bring their own strengths to the department. 

“Not every firefighter has to climb to the top of the aerial ladder if they are not comfortable with heights. There are other jobs they can do,” said Hill. “Not everything is physical or daring, but every job is important.” 

Everyone pitches in to get the job done, whether it’s at the scene of a fire or accident or back at the fire station after a call when they have to clean up equipment. 

“The unglamorous part is once the fire it over, you load everything back onto the truck and go back to the station and spend 30 minutes, even at three in the morning cleaning up,” said Hill. 

That’s where the camaraderie comes into play. 

“You go home tired and dirty and sometimes you get some sleep,” feeling good because chances are you helped someone out, said Hill, speaking from experience. 

There isn’t much he hasn’t seen or done as a firefighter. 

“I’ve been on any kind of a call there is, practically,” he said. 

Now the Melrose Fire Department needs others to step up to the plate.

“It’s a pretty heads up organization. We have good support from the city and surrounding areas. We do a good job of budgeting to make sure our equipment is up to snuff, and we have the tools we need,” said Bunker. 

He said there are personal benefits to being on the fire department.

“It’s not just going on rescue calls, medicals or fighting fires. It’s a valuable learning experience. If you’re enjoying yourself in July and someone gets burned by the campfire or someone injures their ankle, there’s gonna be one cool head because you’ve got the experience, so you know what needs to be done,” he said. 

Hill recalls the time he and his wife came across a head-on accident and he helped the people out until law enforcement arrived. Another time he was at an auction sale and a guy fell down, and he did CPR until the ambulance arrived. 

“Having the firefighting, rescue and EMS experience makes you more prepared for any kind of life experience. That’s a benefit for anybody,” he said. 

Hill, in his 60s, smiles, when saying,  I can’t do this forever.” He said if the department had a full crew and someone would tap him on his shoulder, saying they would like to become a firefighter chances are he would “ride off into the sunset.”   

Generations in families have been Melrose firefighters. Currently they have a father-son duo on the crew—Edwin Santana and his son, Anthony, who is a junior firefighter.

“I took Anthony on his first burn. We gave him the opportunity to use the nozzle. He did a great job,” said Hill.

As a senior member of the department, Hill has learned not to let emotions get the best of him.

“You risk a lot to save a lot,” said Hill, adding he’s more “thick-skinned.”

Even when there are tragic situations, like deaths, he rationalizes what was done.

“We didn’t create that crash. We didn’t start that fire. Our pagers went off and we left whatever we were doing, put on our gear, went to the location and did the best job we could. Sometimes the outcomes aren’t good, but you don’t let that eat at you. You do the best you can with what you have,” he said.

Now the Melrose Fire Department needs more people--men or women--to make the commitment to volunteer for a “pretty dang good organization,” Hill said.   

“It’s personally rewarding, because you never know when what you learned can benefit you or someone else,” Hill concludes. 

That was the case with Hill and his daughter.