Retired Ireland firefighter admits recruitment not easy

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Tom Mundy is proud to have worked as a firefighter with the Ireland Volunteer Fire Department for 43 years.

Most of the other firefighters that are on the force now weren’t even born when he joined.

“I told them that I’ve been on longer than most of them are old,” Mundy, 66, said with a laugh.

But he recognizes that it does take the younger ones, and others, to keep the fire department going. Recruitment is not easy.

“It used to be that we had a waiting list of people wanting to get on,” Mundy said. “And now, it’s getting harder and harder to get the younger ones to join.”

State Rep. Shane Lindauer, R-Jasper, hopes that a bill he has co-authored will help some with recruitment. If passed, the bill will establish a scholarship for public safety officers to attend Ivy Tech Community College.

The Ivy Tech Public Safety Scholarship would provide tuition to public safety officers for any certificate or associate degree program offered at the college for up to two academic years.

With this scholarship, higher education and training would be available to help officers further their careers, Lindauer said in a press release about the bill.

“Volunteer firefighters would be the first group eligible to receive the scholarship,” he said, “which is especially important to help rural towns attract and retain those needed to run volunteer departments.”

The Indiana House of Representatives passed House Bill 1064 Tuesday and it has been sent to the Indiana Senate for consideration. A bill must pass both chambers and be signed by the governor to become law.

Mundy joined the Ireland Volunteer Fire Department 43 years ago for one simple reason. “I just like to help people,” he said. “I just always enjoyed it.”

He grew up watching his father, Ben, serve as an Ireland firefighter. “Seeing him do it made me want to do it, Mundy said. “I actually took his place when he retired.”

In his 43 years of service, Mundy spent 21 of those as fire chief, from 1980 to 2001. But he did the same work as the others his whole time on the force.

“We do station duty: cleaning, maintaining the trucks and other work at the fire house,” he said. “It’s usually two to three hours on a specific weekend. We take turns every seventh week.”

Firefighters also attend a department meeting once a month and training once a month.

And there are the fire calls they get at any time. Firefighters keep a pager on them for that purpose.

“Your pager goes off, and you go,” he said. “You don’t have time to explain anything to anybody. You just go.”

That’s happened to Mundy many times while he was working at the store he owns, Tom’s Lawn and Garden in Jasper.

“That can be bad in retail, when you’re with a customer,” he said. “Most of the time there’s someone here who can help them if I had to go. You just work around it.”

Mundy’s family has been understanding of his need to leave immediately when called, and has always been supportive. Mundy and his wife, Sandy, have three children — Matt Mundy, Alyssa Merkley and Andrea Gehlhausen — and six grandchildren. Alyssa’s husband, Nick Merkley, is a member of the St. Anthony Fire Volunteer Department.

There were many fires Mundy has worked on, but none that he wanted to mention by name.

“We’ve done it all. A lot of them you remember, and a lot of them you forget about,” he said. “And there are some that you try to forget, the ones that had a tragedy with it. I don’t bring those up.”

In those tragic cases, Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center was a big help, he said. “They would have a meeting with everyone who was involved in the run. We would go up there and they talk to us about it,” Mundy said. “It helped us cope with it.”

And there is a camaraderie among the fire and emergency departments in the area, to help each other.

“We work together really well here,” Mundy said.

When Mundy joined the Ireland fire department, the roster was 12 firefighters; now, it is 22.

Another change is in the amount of training people must do to become a firefighter. Mundy believes that is the deterrent in getting people interested enough to join a volunteer fire department.

“You’ve got a year or more of training before you can ever be a fireman. That’s done countywide,” he said. “They have to take so many hours to be a firefighter, and so many hours to be a first responder.

“When I started, there was nothing,” he said. “It’s a lot harder (to become a firefighter) now than what it used to be. And a lot of them just don’t want to do it. That’s making it hard on the volunteer firemen.”

Mundy and others do what they can to get people interested. “Everybody talks to their friends about being a fireman. And so far we’ve been lucky,” he said. “But it’s just hard to get people to join.”

Mundy retired from the force because of his age. To join the fire department, a person must be 35 or younger.

“It’s not a job for older people,” he said. “But if I was younger, I’d join again. That was my enjoyment, my hobby.”

Lindauer hopes the scholarship will help attract others as dedicated as Mundy to rural volunteer fire departments and supply them with resources to support their work in Indiana.

If approved, the bill would go into effect July 1, and volunteer firefighters would be eligible for the scholarships first. After July 2021, the scholarship would be open to all paid public safety officers, including law enforcement, firefighters and EMTs.

“This scholarship would offer public safety officers the opportunity to move forward in their education while remaining in the workforce or volunteering for their community,” Lindauer said.

Information about House Bill 1064 and other bills being considered by the Legislature can be found at www.iga.in.gov.




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