July 16 • 06:50 PM

New recruits report for duty

Imlay's own Neil Collins and Matt Makedonsky join fire department

June 16, 2010
IMLAY CITY — Local volunteer fire departments rely on a steady influx of new recruits to maintain manpower levels and ensure a continuum of quality service for citizens.

The Imlay City Fire Department was bolstered recently by the addition of two new volunteers, both of whom are graduates of Imlay City High School.

Newly-installed firefighters Neil Collins and Matt Makedonsky finished their Firefighter I and II training in April, increasing the Imlay department's active roster to 19 volunteers.

The pair was among 32 local individuals who successfully completed a six-month, 300-hour training program through the Lapeer County Fire Academy in Lapeer. Participants were required to attend classes two days a week and every other Sunday.

On Thursday, Collins and Makedonsky joined fellow firefighters Louis Kepler and Capt. Andy Kustowski for a

community outreach program that included a tour of the fire hall by a local Brownie Scout troop.

Before the Scouts arrived, all four shared their opinions about the importance of recruiting new firefighters into the ranks.

"We joke that you have to have the young people to do all the work," Kustowski quipped. "They are truly the lifeblood of the department. They have the excitement and the enthusiasm that helps keep the rest of us going.

"These two guys (Collins and Makedonsky) are among the finest Imlay City has to offer," he continued. "We're proud of them for stepping up and for being model rookies."

Imlay City Fire Department’s newest members Neil Collins and Matt Makedonsky will benefit from months of training and on-scene experience. photo by Tom Wearing.

Rookies maybe, but Collins and Makedonsky are quickly adjusting to their roles with the department. Both said they are proud to have the opportunity to serve in their hometown.

"I've always had an interest in giving back to the community," Makedonsky said. "Once I got the okay from my wife, I decided to go ahead.

"It's a lot of training and a real commitment, and there's a lot more to being a firefighter than I thought," he said. "It's more than running into a burning building. There's a lot to know and learn."

Collins said he got a taste for emergency service from his father Don, who was an EMS worker for 15 years.

"I think I've always had an attraction to firefighting," said Collins. "My only regret is that I didn't do this sooner. I see the way they care for people and I wanted to be a part of that."

Capt. Kustowski said the department will immediately benefit from the presence of the two new recruits. While still in training, both Collins and Makedonsky were at the scene of the 17-hour fire that destroyed the main assembly plant at Champion Bus in February.

"We're always looking for new recruits," Kustowski said. "We lose one or two people every year to attrition. There's a role for everybody on the department.

"You have to be professional and dedicated," he continued. "We are held to the highest of standards and the public expects that we respond to emergencies in the manner prescribed by our industry.

"We're looking for people who make good decisions and are ready to go when the bell goes off," Kustowski added. "It's all about liability and responsibility. "

Pointing to Collins and Makedonsky, Kustowski said the new recruits appear to meet all the criteria.

"We try to fill our roster each year," he said, "and these two fellas have what we're looking for."

Kepler, a fire marshall for Chrysler Corporation and an Imlay City firefighter since 2002, agrees with that assessment.

"These guys show a lot of initiative and enthusiasm," he said. "You don't have to tell them what to do, they just go ahead and do it."

Kepler added that fresh recruits like Collins and Makedonsky have been appraised of the latest information and developments related to fighting fires.

"There's a continuum of learning required because of new technology and knowing how newer buildings and cars are constructed," said Kepler. "Different materials and construction determine how a fire will behave and how it's fought. It's truly an art form."

Fire Chief Kip Reaves agrees that technology is a key component of modern firefighting; requiring today's firefighters to adapt to the times and state-of-the-art training.

"I'm glad the Imlay City area still has quality people who want to serve the department," Reaves said. "Recruitment and retention of part-paid firefighters is an ongoing problem.

"The poor economy, jobs, housing and time required to train work against the smaller departments in terms of getting and keeping trained firefighters," he continued. "Neil and Matt are fine examples of younger citizens stepping up, by taking the long intense training and serving the community. Hopefully for a long, long time."

Anyone interested in serving on the Imlay City Fire Department is encouraged to call Fire Chief Kip Reaves at 724-6262, or talk to any Imlay City firefighter.

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.
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