If you’re in a class with Corey WattsÂ ’10, don’t be surprised if he suddenly stands up and sprints out the door without any explanation. Watts’ hasty exit from the classroom is not due to intense dissatisfaction with the lecture orÂ an urgent need to visit the bathroom â€“ he is responding to a call from the Williamstown Fire Department.
Along with five other students, Jon Levinsohn ’10, Kevin Dunn ’10, Jamal Jefferson ’11, Evalynn Rosado ’12 and Erik Levinsohn ’12, Watts is on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the school year. At all times, these volunteer firefighters carry small pagers that squawk or beep if an emergency has been called in to the dispatcher.Â Their response is immediate. “When your pager goes off, you put something on, you hop on your bike and you haul butt to the department,” Jefferson said.
While the rest of the volunteers in the department drive directly to the scene of the emergency, the students generally don’t own cars and therefore go straight to the department on Water Street. “This means a couple of things: We have to run to the fire department, and we get to ride in the trucks, which is pretty cool. However, there is a limited amount of room in the trucks â€“ maybe three seats â€“ so if you’re slow, the trucks are gone,” Watts said.
The emergencies that these Ephs respond to vary in urgency and size â€“ anything from a strong gas odor (like the one called in at Tunnel City earlier this month) to a raging fire (students will recall the electrical fire thatÂ destroyedÂ the Cumberland Farms on Route 2 in March).Â “Most frequently we get into the truck and we go really fast and it turns out nothing is wrong.” Watts said. “However, if it sounds like there could be an emergency, we go quickly and we go with a lot of people.”
Though the students’ foremost responsibility is responding to fires, their duties aren’t limited to such crises.Â “If someone is lost, we find them. Sometimes we stop traffic if the fire truck needs to move out and we help with car accidents,” Jefferson said. “We also make sure that the equipment is properly placed â€“ if things aren’t organized and someone needs to find the drill and it’s not there, we lose time, and that could be the time it takes to save someone.”
Sometimes the firefightersÂ even help around campus. The flooding from the torrential rain two weekends ago meant that the local firefighters were busy pumping water out of basements around campus. “WeÂ alsoÂ always get a few calls at the beginning of the year from Frosh Quad from kids forgetting about their popcorn in the microwave,” Dunn said.
The student firefighters never know what each day will entail, but it is specifically the unpredictability that makes the job so enjoyable. “It’s ridiculous . . . you can have absolutely no calls for two weeks, and then five calls in a day,” Rosado said. “Three o’clock in the morning seems to be the favorite time for my pager to go off.”
While the firefighters are not required to go to the department if they are called, Rosado said, “You go if you can. It is a job, and you take it seriously.” And that means answering the call at all times of night. “Sometimes I’ll already be standing by my bed putting my clothes on when I realize that I’m awake because my pager has gone off,” said Watts, who lays out his clothes by his bed to stay on the safe side.
“We’reÂ always waiting for that one big fire, which is pretty rare. Williamstown is pretty small . . . the way we think is that it could happen in the next five minutes or the next year,” Dunn said. “I need an arsonist to come to Williams.”
While the hours they spend on the job vary from week to week, the firefighters all attend training classes on Monday nights. TheseÂ cover topics includingÂ vehicle extrication andÂ ladder training. “There was one training in which we had masks â€“ it was one of the toughest things that we had to do. I had to get on my hands and knees in a smoky room and breathe with an oxygen tank while trying to find my way around. I was so exhausted when it was over â€“ it was definitely one of the most physical and mentalÂ challengesÂ that I had to face on this job,”Â Jefferson said.
While putting out fires, crawling through smoky rooms and running across campus in the middle of the night are all highlights of the job, the students agree that the best part of the job is connecting with the community and the other local firefighters. “You get to meet a lot of cool people who aren’t students or professors, and you get to really know the character of Williamstown and its people,” Watts said. “It’s a different cross-section of people than who I would normally interact with.” Dunn agreed: “You know, I enjoy interacting with 18 to 22 year olds, but it’s nice to break out of the purple bubble sometimes,” he said.
For Rosado, who is currently the only female inÂ theÂ department,Â the experience includes tough love. “TheyÂ nicknamedÂ me ‘Princess’ . . . it’s definitely a group of guys, but they’re very cool about it,” she said. “I do get teased a bit for being a girl, but I tease right back, so it’s all in good fun. Plus, I enjoy riding around in a big red truck and having a lot of toys to play with.”