Tell us about your experience in volunteer firefighting.
“My name is Isaac Scansen and I am a firefighter for the city of Helena. I was born in Bellingham Washington, moved around for a number of years, and finally landed in Helena, Montana. I like to lift, hunt, fish, camp, wheel, bike, climb, snowboard, and pretty much do anything outdoors.
I have a background in customer service gained from my job in high school at City Brew. After working for City Brew, I gained construction knowledge from several years of Type 5 (Stick Frame) Residential Construction. I was a resident firefighter with PCRFD for almost two years before getting hired in Helena. I have an associate’s degree in fire science and rescue from Helena College, and worked for Livingston Fire Rescue as a reserve for a several months.”
Why did you decide to volunteer when you did? Any specific events or influences?
“It has been my dream to be a firefighter from a young age. My cousin was a volunteer firefighter in Washington and showed me the engine, bunkers, and medical equipment. He shared stories of the fun and crazy things he had the chance to see and got to do. I also hit a tree skiing up in Red Lodge and almost broke my neck and back. I received outstanding care from Red Lodge Fire Rescue.
I had no idea how to start the journey or how to pay for schooling to get the knowledge and experience to be hired by a fire department. I was laid off by my steel job in February of 2016 and decided to follow my heart in firefighting. I signed up for college, completed the physical test, and met with Mike Wiederhold. I brought up my concern to Mike about paying for college, and he told me about a residency program that gave students hands-on experience while receiving training and a college degree. Through this program, I would get a full ride scholarship. I was accepted into the program and offered the position at the fire station.”
How did volunteering in Livingston help you to acquire the position that you currently hold?
“Volunteering in Livingston with Park County Rural Fire gave me the experience, training, and baseline knowledge for my current position. PCRFD is an all-hazard department, meaning that the department runs on structure fires, wildland fires, car accidents, slide-off’s, hazmat calls, gas leaks, and lift assists. We were trained on what to do, how to think, and how to act appropriately in order to keep us safe.\
After obtaining various certifications, I was allowed to do duty weekends. A duty weekend gave me the power to be in charge of the district. I would be the Incident Commander for any incident that happened in district. That experience was overwhelming, but it was eye-opening and gave me an even greater respect for those in charge. After working with Livingston Fire Rescue, I was able to work on my EMS skills and get the feel for a paid department. I owe my career to PCRFD and LFR. I knew what I wanted my future to look like and I dove in head first.”
What challenges have you faced in your service?
“A few challenges come to mind, and one would be my dyslexia. I have a hard time reading and comprehending what I have read, but it just means I have to put more energy out to learn. Something I’ve learned is that if you are passionate about what you are learning, you will succeed.
Another challenge I am working on is being tactful. I am very blunt, but sometimes it helps to be more delicate.”
What do you feel you have gained through your service?
“I’ve gained a career, a second family, and lifelong friends. I have also gained thousands of volunteer hours, hundreds of service calls, more respect for those in command, and pride in myself. I now know that I can do anything I set my mind to. I’ve gained confidence in the services that I can provide to the public.”
What advice would you give those interested in volunteering?
“Volunteering takes a lot of passion and dedication. In most people’s minds, a firefighter only fights fires. Yes, we fight fires, but that’s not all. We are who the public calls when they don’t know who to turn to. Sometimes it’s putting a fire out, sometimes it’s picking an elderly off the floor, and sometimes it’s someone’s worst day. You have to have a passion for helping people.
More than 85% of all fire department calls for service are for emergency medical care. Since this is an always evolving field, volunteers never know it all. No firefighter is ever done learning or training. I used my time volunteering as an opportunity to learn as much as I could to pursue the path I wanted.
People volunteer because they want to help people. Don’t forget why you started volunteering: a love for helping people and a passion for fire.”