By Carolyn Lee
The Imperial Republican
“It’s the best decision I ever made. I have no regrets.”
That’s what Brian Carman said of his 25 years on the Imperial Volunteer Fire Department (IVFD). Carman retired almost 25 years to the day, on Oct. 18.
As a 26-year old in 1985, Carman played on a softball league in Enders. One night, upon returning to his home near Zion Lutheran Church, he discovered the attic was on fire.
After the firemen had put out the fire, he remembers thinking, “It would be cool to be on the fire department.”
Firefighting may be in his blood. His father was a volunteer firefighter in Idaho before moving to Imperial. His brothers, Doug and Alan, have also served on the IVFD, although not all at the same time.
Over the years Carman, 51, has served as training officer for five years, secretary for about two years, and vice president, president and second lieutenant for one year each.
He was elected chief in 2001, shortly after 9/11, and was elected six more times, serving just over six years.
After 9/11 firemen were elevated to hero status, Carman said. “We’re not. We’re just regular people doing stuff that needs to get done,” he said.
When Carman joined the department he had several goals. He wanted to be chief. He wanted to win awards. He wanted to retire in good standing and have people say he was a good firefighter. And, he wanted to leave something to the department.
He’s achieved those goals, he said, although of the awards he now says firefighting is a team effort and no one person can win an award. He doesn’t want to talk about his awards.
Another goal Carman set for himself was to take 100 hours of training every year. He’s trained for the Jaws of Life team, the dive team—“You name it, I’ve done it, from basic to advanced classes” in hazardous materials, wildland and structure fires and incident command.
One of the most fun classes in fire school, he said, was Advanced Rapid Intervention Training, where firemen learn how to rescue other firemen from inside a burning structure.
“An absolute blast. I learned a lot,” he said of that training.
Over the past 25 years a lot of changes have affected fire departments. Carman said when he started, the firemen had tall rubber boots, a coat, helmet and gloves. Now they have bunker gear. It’s so sophisticated that the firemen need training to wear it, as it is so protective. Carman said they have to know when they’re “in too deep” in a fire and back off.
When he started, air packs were available, but firemen who considered themselves macho didn’t always use them. Now, you don’t go into smoke without them, he noted.
Equipment is also more advanced. The IVFD has two thermal imaging cameras, which Carman calls indispensable for detecting hot spots.
He points to equipment like that when addressing the support of Imperial and Chase County for the fire department. Carman said IVFD has better equipment than most small departments, thanks to the public’s support.
“I hope people don’t take any emergency services for granted. We have exceptional people here, and it’s been a real privilege to be a part of it,” he said.
Carman continued, saying firefighters have so much dedication to the job, taking time from families and jobs to train and respond.
Looking back on years of firefighting, Carman said one of his first fires as chief sticks out in his mind. It involved a building on fire east of town near railroad tracks. Hazardous materials were involved, it was raining and blowing, and a railroad car parked eight feet from the burning building carried toxic chemicals.
There are other fires he wants to forget, and things he saw that he wished he hadn’t.
In the end, though, Carman said, “There’s nothing like the feeling of knocking down a fire, knowing you did a good job, then going back to the barn all dirty and hot, and getting things cleaned up, and the camraderie. I miss being with the guys.”