For more than three decades, when Allen “Louie” Post sat down to dinner with his family in Springfield, Neb., he was never sure he'd get through the entire meal.
Post, 59, said calls for help to Springfield Volunteer Fire and Rescue have interrupted hundreds of meals and countless holiday celebrations since 1975. He quit responding to calls two years ago but stays involved by serving on the fire department's board.
Post, trained as a firefighter and emergency medical technician, estimates he took “thousands of hours of classes” to prepare for both jobs. He was the Springfield fire chief for 20 years.
“Any time you get an emergency medical call, you know it can be bad,” he said. “There are some you don't ever forget. You have to be a dedicated person. Otherwise you can't take the bad things that go with the job.”
Post is so dedicated that he put his home up for collateral several years ago when Springfield needed a new rescue squad but the city couldn't afford it.
“That kind of blew me away,” Sarpy County Sheriff Jeff Davis said. “I can't imagine someone doing something like that. I've never heard of anyone before or since doing something like that.”
Post said he knew the community would “make good” on the payments for the new ambulance but his wife “wasn't real happy” when he gave her the news.
“It was quite an upgrade for us at the time,” Post said. “We jumped from a suburban (station wagon) model to a new Ford van.”
The van has since been replaced and was sold at auction.
Davis said volunteers like Post are critical to keeping their communities safe.
“Louie and a lot of others like him mean the difference between life and death, especially in the rural areas,” Davis said.
Nebraska has nearly 14,000 firefighters, including about 12,079 volunteers, according to the Nebraska Fire Marshal's Office. Iowa's Fire Marshal's Office said that state has about 18,000 firefighters, including about 16,000 volunteers.
Post said his maternal grandmother, Erma Buskirk, helped start the first Springfield rescue unit in the mid-1950s and kindled his desire to help his community.
He remembers being dazzled by the “red fire phone” in his grandmother's house that rang for emergencies.
“We weren't allowed to touch that red phone.”
Working as a volunteer firefighter “is something that some people just feel they have to do. You do it because you want to help the community,” Post said.
“When you show up at a house where someone is really sick, they are so glad to see you that you could just see the relief in their eyes,” he said. “Maybe you do CPR and they live. When they come back to thank you ... well, that's priceless.”