ERLANGER, Ky. — Derek Mayfield’s dream has come true.
“I did a ride along with them and I was hooked,” said Erlanger’s newest full-time firefighter/paramedic. “Instantly I knew. Here I am four years later.”
It was an historic occasion when Mayfield and Ray Embry took their oaths two weeks ago. It’s the first time in its 115-year history that Erlanger Fire/EMS is made up entirely of full-time firefighters – 32 to be exact.
Erlanger thought it was crucial to keep up with the times.
It’s “a big transition, big difference for us,” said Assistant Chief Dave McQuerry.
With two firehouses, Erlanger will have three shifts of nine. Mayfield and Embry will work together.
“It is a lot of sacrifice. I feel like it’s a very rewarding job,” said Embry. “I truly like being there when people need help.”
In the past, Erlanger had relied on volunteers or a mix of part-time and full-time firefighters. With help from the city, it was able to convert the part-time budget into full-time dollars.
“For the city it was just about a $30,000 to go from part-time to full-time,” McQuerry said.
The department says it does about 3,500 runs a year – or about 10 a day. They say being fully staffed not only will help the community but also help them.
“They’ll train together, work together, eat together, live here together, so it’s a big deal,” McQuerry said. “We’re out the door really quickly. We can get to you really fast.”
“You get guys who are working together every third day, so everyone figures out how everyone operates,” said Embry.
"With a full-time career, everyone is committed to this city, this department,” Mayfield said. “We’re always here 24/7 ready to do our job this way."
This comes at a time when the nation has seen a decline in volunteer firefighters.
“Volunteers were taking care of all the calls around here at one point,” said McQuerry. “Once that dropped off, we had to supplement with some paid staff, so that was part-time and also full-time in combination.”
Across the U.S., the number of volunteer firefighters dropped 15 percent between 2015 and 2017, according to a National Fire Protection Association report - from more than 800,000 to a little over 682,000.
“When the volunteer program ended a few years ago, we saw a decrease in our response time,” McQuerry said. “We were able to get out of the door faster and not wait for people to come from home.”
For Mayfield, sworn in just two weeks ago, the job is everything he expected it to be.
“I really love working with these guys. They’re great guys!” he said.