WAMEGO, Kan. (WIBW) - In a town of just under 6,000, volunteers make up the Wamego Fire Department.
"Volunteerism is a unique calling,” Tim Flanary, assistant chief for the department, said. “You've got to want to do it, because there's not a paycheck that comes with it. You've got to want to serve."
Serve, he has — Flanary first became a fireman in 1978.
"Going in as an 18-year-old, wide-eyed, scared to death, thinking, 'What am I doing?'” Flanary said. “But at the same time, knowing I’m taking care of my neighbors."
Forty-one years later, Flanary continues a career in taking care of his neighbors.
Four decades, he says, that have come with their highs and lows.
"I’ve delivered three babies in the field,” he said. “I've seen life both enter and leave the earth.”
Just last summer, Flanary answered the call to a new task.
He's part of the command staff with the Kansas Forest Service and responds to national wildland fires.
It’s a job that starts with a call from the National Forest Service.
"When they call, you have two hours to be mobilized, and they'll call you back and tell you what flight you're on, from what airport to what destination,” he said.
Last August, the destination was southwest Oregon for the Taylor Creek and Klondike fires.
"It was more nerves than anything else,” Flanary said. “Just like being that 18-year-old wide-eyed again, this is a whole new experience for me."
The National Forest Service brought in assistance from all over to pitch in.
"We had 39 states represented, and two foreign countries. Our base camp was the second-largest population of the county that we were in,” he said. "Out there with the wildland fires, you see the signs that say 'Thank you firefighters, thank you responders.' Even though that isn't my community, I still feel the responsibility to protect."
As he embarks on a new adventure in a tenured career, Flanary says you can learn a thing or two about life from fires.
"Don't overlook the small stuff, because it can become big in a hurry."