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Volunteer firefighters

Volunteer firefighters are the biggest organisation in Slovenia. We have dedicated this post to their dedication.
112 call (equal to 911 if you are from the USA) directs you to emergency centre that is linked first and foremost with the professional firefighters and secondary volunteer firefighters. The latter is especially interesting since in Slovenia it has over a 150-years old tradition. To be a part of volunteer firefighters means to faster and more efficient help with potential fire outbreaks. But the role of this associations is much wider – people find in them social support, solidarity, comfort zone and help with any emergency needed. Today most of this volunteer fire departments are the core of the village life, gathering places, they connect villagers with activities and other actions, from cultural to social to sportive and so on.They are major representatives at celebrations and also present at funerals. Through years they have developed into a modern and humanitarian organisation. They are representing the backbone of numerous communities around the country.

Volunteer firefighters also help with the education of young firefighters and representation of this profession around the country. Annually all elementary schools in Slovenia have a “firefighter day” where kids of all ages learn about the profession and how to deal in different emergency situations. Every school organises field trips during their first 9 years of education and on this level kids get to know the local fire departments and they are also brought to the professional ones.
Volunteer fire brigades in Slovenia
With 2 million inhabitants, we reach one of the highest numbers of membership in the volunteers field. There is over 130.000 volunteer firefighters around the entire country. On top of that we have also 860 professional firefighters that work in 14 locations around the country. They are available on the number 112 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. In some centres there are up to 100 professional firefighters. A shift usually lasts 12 hours a day. They take care of all natural disasters, fires, floods, earthquakes and accidents. They have to be physically extremely fit, most of their job is exposed to high stress, danger and heavy physical work. When they are not working on the field, they take care for the maintenance of the equipment, fire department, local area and so on. Volunteer firefighters jump in whenever needed. Their skills need to equal the skills of professionals. They might not be as fit and physically capable as professional ones, but they are educated in all necessary knowledge to asses any potential emergencies.
Fire has been a common threat throughout centuries. In the past mostly because houses were made out of wood and that little spark that jumped-off the fireplace could easily make damage to the entire village or city. Later in the time of different raids, attackers would be throwing torches onto buildings, because they knew exactly how much damage the fire can cause. Already during the medieval ages there were fire patrols, most likely on top of castle towers or on the church bell- towers… and when they saw danger was approaching they started playing the trumpets very loud and with a certain tune, to let people know about the potential danger coming their way. Pretty soon those fire patrols became one of the most prominent associations in the villages and towns. One other destination that they needed to look after was a granary – the building was usually located close to the ramparts of the city and  built mostly from stone, since inside they kept all the food that the town’s people needed in case fire would erupt. A firefighter usually stood on guard in front of those places as well. When first associations were formed in the early 19th century, in Slovenia – together with beekeepers, volunteer firefighters were among the first ones. And when in numerous towns around Europe we like to say that village could not exist if it didn’t have a church and an inn. Well, in Slovenia you need to add to that combination also a fire department. When travelling through our little country you might notice a house with red painted door and 112 number written on it. Most of this homes are small and they are in different categories depending on how many and what kind of trucks they have. 
For most of my life I have been living across the street from a fire brigade house. As a kid I was terrified of Saturday siren that came out loud at noon each time – I used to cry like a little baby and hide away with covered ears. When years passed the siren no longer rings every Saturday – it only rings every first Saturday of the month and it is a test if siren still functions. Our definitely does. The firefighter house next door belongs to the 2nd category. The entrance has two large red doors that have ben modified just recently. Now they are electric and there is no need to open them by hand. There are big 112 numbers written on it. In the front there is also a fresco of St. Florian. He was a Christian holy man, patron saint of chimney sweeps, soap makers and firefighters. His feast day is May 4th. During the persecution of Christians under Diocletian, reports reached Rome that St. Florian was not enforcing prescriptions against Christians in his territory. Aquilinius was sent to investigate. When he ordered Florian to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods, he refused. Florian was sentenced to be burned at stake. Standing on the funeral bonfire he kept challenging the Roman soldiers to light the fire by saying “if you want to know that I am not afraid of your torture, light the fire, and in the name of the Lord I will climb onto it”. The soldiers decided not to burn Florian but instead drowned him in the nearby river. Still today he is mainly portrayed as a fireman, with a bucket of water helping the fire go down. He is very widely venerated in Central Europe. Seeking the sponsorship of a helpful saint was and still is a part of name giving practice in Catholic areas. Peasants regularly used the name, Florian, as one of the given names for at least one of their male children – to secure the saint’s patronage against fire. 


But let’s go back to the fire brigade house. Once you enter the house there are two trucks – a big and a small one and on either side of the big garage there are little wardrobes with the whole dress attire and a helmet for each and every member of the fire brigade. Back part of the garage has s storage room for the equipment while the top floor of the house has a small meeting room and a whole apartment, where one of the firefighters and his family lives. Rent-free but with a bit of an obligation to be in charge of cleaning, maintaining and directing calls when emergencies occur.  There is about 30 members of this little fire brigade. Plus about 30 kids of elementary school that decided to learn about firefighters for their extra curriculum activity. Usually about 1/3 continues even after elementary school is over. I have seen quite a few kids during my time living here – actually two neighbours started with their little fire drills when they were about 4 years old. Today in their early 30-is both of them are professional firefighters, exercising every day in the neighbouring hills and mountains and numerous times also at the volunteer fire brigade house where they took their first steps. No matter that they are pros now – they still love to hang out with their buddies that didn’t decide to take firefighting as their career but they love it as a side kick.  

During the winter there is rarely some action. Once a week they come and have a meeting or they help out with traffic arrangements at big festivities. Occasional there is a fire that needs to be stopped. Just about a month ago they were zooming out of the house into the local woods when lighting hit a tree… two hours in and they stopped the fire from making more damage. Sometimes they organise a party. Especially when their date comes – meaning that every single volunteer fire brigade home has a date when it was established and that is more than a good reason to party. I still remember the all-weekend-long party that they organised for their 100th anniversary couple of years ago.
One of my favourite things to watch when I peek outside of my kitchen window is when the veterans are having their fire drills. This men and women usually do not go into action anymore. But for many this has been a hobby throughout their lives. So when summer comes they decide to have some drills still. The pace is slower, the eyesight not so clear and the ears do not function as they did in the past. But they still put on their uniforms and helmets and go through all the manoeuvres that they have known for over 50 or 60 years. Still you can see a sparkle in their eyes when they finally put the hose together and the water is spraying directly into the targeted can, that after a few minutes falls down with a big splash. Mission succeeded!
I think th little things make Slovenia what it actually is. We need to be proud of our firefighters – professional and volunteer ones. They surely save us from many troubles as well as help with the entertainment and socialisation around villages. And anytime you are in Slovenia be sure to catch one of the parties that they organise… you wont be sorry.