NOTE: FIVE PHOTOS
The once-bright red finish on the fire truck has faded to pink. There is no air conditioning, and the heater is stuck on.
But the red lights and siren still work, and Three Points volunteer fire chief Jim Cook picks up the microphone.
“Rescue 90 is responding to a rollover accident on Ajo Highway, 10 miles west of Three Points,’ he says.
Cook pulls out of the station with two volunteers behind him driving a fire truck that was new when Beaver Cleaver was young.
On the way, Cook learns from dispatchers that there are multiple injuries at the scene of the rollover. A medical helicopter is on standby.
“Launch the helicopter,’ Cook says, knowing that the window of opportunity for trauma care is fast decreasing. Chances are good the victims went 20 minutes without treatment before medical dispatchers even got the call.
The engine races as fast as Cook’s mind as he passes tourists driving along the highway.
He lights a cigarette. “I’m an EMT,’ he says, referring to his emergency medical technician training. “You’d think I’d know better.’
The first at the scene, Cook quickly assesses the severity of injuries, asks for a second medical helicopter and updates rescue workers responding from four other agencies.
The patients are quickly prepared for helicopter rides to the hospital in Tucson. They survive their injuries.
This is atypical for the small volunteer fire department in Three Points, where the Ajo and Sasabe highways meet 20 miles west of Tucson. Days could go by without an incident – and then a quiet day could be destroyed by a string of calls.
While professional city firefighters wield clout in the competition for money and prestige, Three Points gets by on the good hearts of its volunteers, who buy their own gear, accept whatever donated equipment is offered, and service the fire trucks at their homes.
Even the fire station is donated.
A local church split the cost of moving the building from church land to the dusty lot beside Sasabe Highway, south of Three Points.
A big problem is water.
“Hydrants? What are those?’ Cook says jokingly.
Firefighters can fill water tankers at a nearby farm or a Tucson Water connection near Ryan Airfield, 10 miles east.
The firefighters don’t have modern fire equipment. The main pumper is a 1968 Ford bought for $1,800 from Rural/Metro Fire Department.
The two-seat rescue truck is army surplus.
A standing joke about some of the trucks is, “Don’t stop the engine at the scene of a call. It may not start again.’
But the trucks do run. When they don’t, the firefighters make them run, knowing somebody’s life may depend on it.
That’s the bottom line.
“We’re not in it for the money, because there is none,’ says Cook. “We enjoy helping other people.’
Joanne Fialek, 50, began a new phase of her life as a Three Points volunteer. She owns a business in the area, allowing her to respond to calls during the day. She counts the compliments as compensation.
“It’s an emotional, spiritual pay,’ she says.
Last year, as volunteers tried to resuscitate an elderly man who was clinically dead, Fialek said the man’s granddaughter hugged her and said, “I know you tried your best, but my grandpa is dead.’ Though bittersweet, it was the kind of emotional pay the volunteers thrive on.
Support also comes from the families of the volunteers.
Fialek’s 18-year-old daughter, Deb, who drives a fire engine-red car, said, “This is so cool. I’m gonna write a book, `My Mom the Paramedic.’ ‘
Volunteers sacrifice their personal lives to be on call 24 hours a day.
“I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve put clean clothes on top of a wet body (after leaping out of the shower),’ Cook said.
“I’ve never asked myself, `Why am I doing this?’ ‘
Fialek echoes the sentiment:
“There’s no glory in this job. We’re there for the patient.’
PHOTO ONE: RICK WILEY/Tucson Citizen/Volunteer Earle Jackson tests nerve reflexes on a man ejected from a pick up truck along the Ajo Highway west of Three Points.
PHOTO TWO: RICK WILEY/Tucson Citizen/ Joanne Fialek discovers the siren.
PHOTO THREE: RICK WILEY/Tucson Citizen/Brian Lassen collects his thoughts after helping treat a seriously injured victim of an auto accident.
PHOTO FOUR: RICK WILEY/Tucson Citizen/A simple shelter keeps the noonday sun off the fire trucks, but doesn’t keep out vandals.
PHOTO FIVE: RICK WILEY/Tucson Citizen/Three Points Fire volunteer Fire Chief Jim Cook helps prepare the department’s rescue truck for a new engine.