IN OUR moment of crisis, after dialing 911, the sight of first responders bursting onto the scene brings immediate relief. Help has arrived. In small communities like Belleville, it’s even better because the faces you see are likely those of your family, friends, or neighbors. Larry and Angela Phelps are among them.
Their love and appreciation for residents in the small town motivates them to respond to calls for help. Whether it be a fire, wreck, or medical call, they respond together whenever possible. They know firsthand the comfort of a familiar face when the unthinkable happens. Larry received a call requesting help at an accident scene. Angela’s brother had been killed in an automobile accident.
“That next evening, the next meeting night, the captain showed up in my driveway and told me to get in. They carried me to my first meeting, and I’ve been there ever since,” said Larry.
No wonder there’s such a bond in small, rural communities.
Angela said, “You have to understand you work in your community, and your community is where your relatives live. So, that next call may be one of your loved ones. You just don’t know. It’s likely going to be somebody you know.”
Larry agreed, “There’s a feeling of comfort when they see somebody they know — the familiar face. You’ve got to take into consideration that most of the time when the call goes out, no matter what [the nature of the call] is, somebody’s having a bad day.“
Angela was left at home when Larry responded to calls. It didn’t take long for her to tire of that.
“I just got tired of being left behind. [Larry was] always going to training, my kids were grown, and I wanted to help my neighbors, so I joined him,” she said.
We are always stronger together, and in the case of married firefighters, shared experiences go a long way toward maintaining mental health.
“We’ve been married for almost 40 years and have relied on each other for quite some time. We know how each other feels and what’s bothering you. It does help to know when someone’s hurting and just being there for one another,” said Larry.
Angela responds to other emergencies in her full-time job as a planning officer with the Marshall County Emergency Management Agency (MCEMA). She began part time at the Lincoln County EMA and was the deputy director beginning in 2016. She transferred to Marshall County in 2019. MCEMA responds to fires and accidents, but Angela said some of their most significant calls are for hazardous material situations and search and rescue.
It’s common for MCEMA to respond to calls for assistance in neighboring counties like Lincoln County.
Angela said, “Not only do communities have to work together, but counties have to work together. Sometimes they respond together, and sometimes they train together. Sometimes they just respond because they know you, and they say, ‘Okay, I’m going to help my friend.’”
In the spirit of caring when someone else is hurting, the Phelps’ are aware of today’s social media’s impact on reporting accidents and emergencies. Remembering that someone’s loved one might learn about their crisis first from something read online is another way to care about and help those in your community.
“All those pictures don’t need to be put on Facebook because you don’t know if their family members have been notified. Even if they know, those pictures can really hurt someone,” said Angela. “And Facebook travels faster than the speed of light sometimes,” Larry said.
That’s the heart of it — helping. First responders have a deep desire to help others.
Belleville Volunteer Fire Department could use more help-minded members. As people like the Phelps’ look toward a retirement day, the desire to pass the torch to younger generations is strong.
Larry said, “I don’t know if they realize the need is there. And honestly, there’s a tremendous amount of training that comes along with the commitment that you make to the fire department. If you’re willing to do it, then you have to be willing to go through a tremendous amount of training so that you’re an asset and a help.”
It’s important for many reasons, but the main one is the comfort of knowing the community can respond to the needs of their own. And knowing you’ve helped your neighbor is priceless.
“When you come in, dragging and hurting all over, you wonder, Why am I doing this? What was I thinking?’ But when you see that neighbor, relative, person, or child, and they smile and say thank you, it makes it all worth it. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else now,” Angela said.
Neighbors helping neighbors is Lincoln County at its best. GN