All dairy farmers wear multiple hats and are accomplished jacks (and jills) of all trades, but fifth-generation farmer Stew Yeaton of Epsom, New Hampshire holds down a significant second job that makes an enormous difference in his community.
In addition to working with his brother, William, to manage the family’s 300-acre farm and 110-cow milking herd, Stew has been a member of the Epsom Fire Department for more than 35 years. For two decades of that tenure, he has served as department chief; about 5 years ago, he finally became a part-time town employee responsible for five full-time employees along with about 20 volunteers.
People may not realize that 85 percent of the fire departments in the United States are staffed fully or partially by close to 1 million volunteers. The tradition is older than the United States; Benjamin Franklin organized the first volunteer fire brigade in Philadelphia in 1736. Often such departments are in rural communities across America, which are dependent on their volunteer force for emergency response to everything from car accidents to medical emergencies to fires. They also exist in towns like Epsom, which is less than 12 miles east of Concord.
Many community members, including a number of Cabot co-op farmers, have a family tradition of serving on local fire department forces. Like Stew, they invest time not only in responding to calls but completing training, often including Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification. “I believe everyone should be involved in their community in one way or another,” Stew says, “and being active in the fire department and helping others is something I have always loved doing.”
The Epsom Fire Department responds to about 900 calls a year including emergencies and routine service calls like checking carbon dioxide detectors. Fewer calls are for actual fires these days compared with when he began serving, Stew says. “It’s a sign of the times,” he explains, noting that health emergencies have increased with our aging population, among other issues. “It also shows that fire prevention tends to be effective; it does pay off.”
In order to help the Epsom firefighting team as well as those of other local communities whose fire departments are often called together to an emergency, Stew Yeaton initiated a successful regional training program. Once a month, about 40-45 firefighters from four towns come together to learn from an instructor about topics like emergency cardiac care or diabetes-related health crises. “It builds teamwork,” Stew says. “We’re getting face-time so we know each other before we end up on a call together.” The effort has proven so successful that a group of towns on the other side of Concord are replicating the model. “It’s been huge,” says Stew. “Time is always tight. This really helps everyone get so much out of training sessions.”
This year’s Fire Prevention Week is October 8-14. Epsom Fire Chief and farmer Stew Yeaton has a few tips in addition to those listed below:
Inspect your chimney annually for creosote build-up and get it cleaned if necessary. This can be done by using a hand mirror and flashlight. Look up your flue with the damper open to check for crusty build-up.
Change fire alarm batteries twice a year when you change your clocks.
Schedule routine cleaning of your dryer vent tubing.
Make sure to have a fire evacuation plan, especially if you have children. Include what they should do if they arrive home alone and see smoke or any other sign of fire.
It’s also a week when many Cabot farmers take the time to stop by their local fire station to thank firefighters, both volunteer and paid, for their work in the community with a gift of delicious Cabot cheese, like these farmers did.