Andrew Cobb and Carl Giacchi watch TV as they wait for emergency calls at Station 14 of the Boone County Fire Protection District.
Cobb, an MU political science major, has been living at the station free for a year and a half. Although Giacchi no longer lives at a station, he’s lived at stations for a total of five years. He is now the lieutenant of Station 14.
Cobb is one of 41 volunteer firefighters who have free housing provided by the fire district.
“I’m not going to complain about it; it’s a great deal,” Cobb said. “I get to do what I love.”
Residents are given a small bedroom, which is about 10 feet by 12 feet. Several have built lofts to maximize their space.
There also is a large communal living room with plenty of couches, and a kitchen with a stove, oven and microwave. The county also provides a washer and dryer, and pays for utilities.
In return, residents are asked to keep the place clean and orderly because some areas are used for public meetings. The volunteers pay for cable TV and provide their own food and laundry detergent.
Giacchi said the only downside to the residency program is the lack of privacy. He said those not living at the station can go home, but for those in the residency program, home is the fire station.
Firefighters wishing to receive housing go through an application process. They submit a letter to district staff expressing their desire to live in station housing. Then, district staff determine whether the applicant is responsible, dependable and trustworthy. District staff also requires that anyone who takes advantage of the residency program take an emergency medical technician class within one year.
Most residents at fire stations are male students who benefit from having free rent during their college years while serving the community.
“I’ll be the first one to tell you that we are fortunate that higher institutions of learning are around us, because it provides us with students,” said Rob Brown, chief of staff at the fire district.
Volunteer firefighters receive the same training as paid firefighters.
Some stations are busier than others. Giacchi and Cobb average about a call a day. But other stations, such as Station 5, get four or five calls a day.
Volunteer firefighters benefit the county in several ways. The district’s annual budget is $2.4 million. If the district had to hire full-time firefighters, it would cost $660,000 more per station, according to figures released by the fire district. Quicker response times, because stations have firefighters in living quarters, help lower insurance rates for Boone County residents.
Volunteers can overwork themselves if they live at a station for too long, said Jerry Jenkins, battalion chief of the fire district. Most residents live at a station for three years.
“We expect them to move on,” he said.
Some volunteers go on to become paid firefighters, while others move on to different professions. Cobb plans to join the Air Force and go to law school, while Giacchi plans to go to medical school and work with emergency medical services.