Members of the Delaware Volunteer Fireman's Association

It’s a more than weeklong conference where Delaware’s firefighters will train, learn new techniques for saving lives and honor their fellow emergency personnel for heroism and service to their communities.

The 19th annual Delaware Volunteer Firefighter’s Association Conference, held at the Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, began Sept. 7, and will wrap up this coming Saturday, with a grand parade featuring a display of equipment from more than 40 of the 60-plus fire companies statewide.

Delaware is one of the few states where its fire services are comprised almost completely of volunteers, said DFVA Executive Manager Warren Jones. The city of Wilmington has the state’s only paid fire service.

The DFVA serves many functions for the men and women who battle fires, to include watching over legislative affairs relating to firefighting, providing guidance and training and even offering legal and spiritual services, Jones said.

Volunteer firefighters are a special breed, he said.

“People volunteer for a lot of reasons,” Jones said.

Community service has much to do with it, Jones added, because if people don’t serve, lives could be lost and entire towns destroyed.

“But there’s also a certain pride in being a firefighter and being able to control an emergency situation, whether it’s a fire or automobile crash or another type of crisis,” he said.

“A lot of it is the excitement of doing the job and helping your community,” added DFVA President Charles Boyer. “You want to save lives and save property. I’ve been doing this since I was 16 years old, I’ve got 55 years of service, and I’m still doing it.

“It’s something I enjoy; it’s just in my blood.”

Although many Delaware towns had a fire service – Dover’s fire department was created in 1882, Felton in 1883, Camden-Wyoming in 1890 and Harrington in 1902 – they were relatively unorganized until the DFVA formed in 1921.

“The state was starting to grow, and people were moving out of the cities into areas around the counties,” Jones said. “At the same time, the fire companies realized they could work together and communicate better to work on issues regarding firefighting and better management.”

Communication is the key to good fire service, Boyer said.

 “This conference is where we get all the fire departments together to discuss things that have taken place throughout the year,” he said.

Part of that communication also extends outside walls of each fire house, Boyer said. It’s important people throughout the state know about the volunteer companies and support their work.

“A lot of people are not aware our firefighters are all volunteers,” especially those who move into Kent County from out of state, Boyer said. He recalled an incident several years ago where the Dover company extinguished a fire in the Fox Hall subdivision: the homeowners wanted to know who they had to pay for the service.

“We had to tell them, we’re volunteers, but if you’d like to make a donation, thank you.”

Each town’s fire company works continuously to let people know that even though they work without pay, each department is as professional as any career company. That’s one reason why area residents receive mailings asking for contributions or why fire companies hold fundraising activities year-round.

A lot of people also don’t realize almost all funding is provided by the state of Delaware and that Delaware residents are not taxed for the service, Boyer said.

“Every year, we must go before the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee to explain our needs,” he said. “They do an excellent job in helping us out, but otherwise it’s up to the communities to support the companies with donations.”

Many communities offer free tours of their fire stations, an opportunity everyone should take advantage of.

“We have people come in two or three times a month to look at the equipment and the station,” Boyer said. “All you have to do is come over and rap on the door.”

Delaware’s residents will get a firsthand chance to see some of the equipment used to keep their towns and cities safe during the DFVA’s fireman’s parade, which will conclude the nine-day gathering. It will be a stunning sight, with trucks, pumpers, chase cars, tankers and other equipment shined up and put on display.

But those interested in fire equipment should be able to get a more close-up look when organizers line up on Ross Street, Columbia Avenue and William Street in north Dover.

The parade itself will start at 1 p.m. when the city’s fire siren sounds once, and will proceed down State Street to The Green.

“A lot of people throughout the state will get to see equipment from their departments,” Boyer said.