Johnny Copeland: Fire chief has a heart to serve

Published 1:03 pm Tuesday, October 12, 2021

By Marlisa Harding

It takes a special person to serve their community as a volunteer firefighter, DeQuincy Fire Chief Johnny Copeland said. DeQuincy’s 20-person fire department is entirely volunteer and finding the right individual, with the right qualities is very important.

“Not everyone fights fire. Some people are scared. The thought of it freaks them out,” he said. “You have people that, I don’t know if they’re thrill seekers or just want to be in the middle of the action and you have people who just want to help. Most firefighters, it’s that heart to help people. We’re there to help the community, save the community’s property and their lives.”

A heart to serve and bravery are essential, but so is mental fortitude. “You have to be smart. No one is allowed to do a certain thing unless they’ve been properly trained,” Copeland said.

“I tell all of my guys, ‘Everybody wants to be a hero to a point but we don’t need heroes that are getting killed. Not on my watch, anyway.’”

Being a volunteer firefighter requires the same training as a career firefighter, Copeland said. A perfectly trained firefighter completes 240 hours of training a year but that goal is difficult to reach for volunteers who in most cases have full-time jobs outside of the department.

“We do the best we can and we have certifications to get you to a different level. You start out as a rookie and work your way up.”

The certifications volunteer firefighters earn also have longterm value because they transfer nationwide. Copeland said the value of the training and the experience are two benefits of the job beyond the intrinsic value of helping others.

“It does look good on a resume— especially if you’ve got a few certifications,” he said.

Copeland has seen the benefit of the volunteer experience in his own career at Phillips 66. “I’m an emergency response supervisor and this helped me to get me into the job I’m in right now because I was a machinist by trade. It helped me a lot because of all the certifications I’ve had.”

Likewise the medical training firefighters receive creates a well-trained, well-rounded individual.

“A lot of companies are looking for safety people and with us they see you’ve got fire and we get medical training….Vehicles, grass fires, kids stuck under porches—you’re not just there to put out fire, you’re everything except the police,” Copeland said.

“Hazmat, rescue, firefighting, community service — we’ve had to go help a funeral. It’s a wide range of stuff we do as a fire department.”

The job does require physical requirements in order to be a successful candidate, Copeland added.

With bunker gear, air pack, boots, helmet and other equipment, firefighters carry an additional 50 to 60 pounds of weight. “In the middle of August and it’s 100 degrees, body temperatures rise quickly. It’s like putting an overcoat on and walking outside in the summer.”

Because of this, volunteer firefighters must pass an initial physical test in addition to the application and interview. For more information on volunteering for the DeQuincy Fire Department, contact DeQuincy City Hall at 786-8241.