Volunteers drive largest fire department

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published April 19, 2011

 Troy firefighter Dave Caster steps up during ladder training at Station 6 April 18.

Troy firefighter Dave Caster steps up during ladder training at Station 6 April 18.

Photo by Deb Jacques


For some, serving as a volunteer on the Troy Fire Department is the culmination of a lifelong dream.

For others, it’s a family affair.

Jonathan Roberts, 19, grew up in a family of firefighters.

His mother, Susan, and father, David, both served as volunteers, and in fact, they met on the job.

His father now serves as assistant chief for the Fire Department.

Roberts is taking a two-fold approach to pursuing a career in firefighting — he’s completing paramedic training at Oakland Community College and a bachelor’s degree in fire science at Madonna University. He also works part time for the department as a staff assistant.

April is National Volunteer Month, and up to 30 people serve in that capacity at each of Troy’s six fire stations, totaling 172 volunteers. Troy firefighters do not receive compensation while they serve with the department, but they are eligible for compensation after completing specified years of service: $582 per year of service for those who retired after Jan. 1, 2008, and $605 per year of service for those retiring after Jan. 1, 2009.

Roberts started out with the Fire Explorers youth group, and now serves as a volunteer firefighter at Station 3.

When asked why, he said, “It was always in the back of my mind. It’s a cliché answer, but I like to help people. We’re there on their worst day and try to make it a little better.”

Troy firefighters train for three hours each week in a variety of areas, including fire extinguishment tactics, vehicle extrications, and the handling of ladders, ropes and the fire trucks. The stations may be unoccupied between runs and training sessions.

Roberts said no one is required to be at the station in their free time, but many volunteers spend time there, anyway.

Firefighter Todd Dudzinski said volunteers are encouraged to come to the station when they can so someone is there when a run comes in.

“Then we can get the truck on the road real quick,” he said. “It’s a fun place to hang out,” he added.

“We’re fortunate to have newer and up-to-date equipment,” Dudzinski said. “The volunteer Fire Department in Troy works very well. We have very high ratings and are very well trained.”

Dudzinski has served at Station 6 for the past nine years. He works as an architect in a Troy office located close to his home and the station.

“It was something I always wanted to do,” he said, noting that his station goes on about 150 runs each year.

“The dispatcher tells us where to go over our radios,” he explained. Designated tones activate pagers for members of the station selected to respond.

Across the country, 70 percent of fire departments are volunteer, David Roberts said.

He noted that the Troy Fire Department is the largest volunteer department in Michigan and the largest department overall in Oakland County.

He credited the success of the department to code enforcement, public safety efforts, good training and equipment, and volunteers who donate their time.

“We’re unique,” he said.

Firefighter Ali Taqi works as an emergency room physician at local hospitals and has served at Station 6 for 15 years with the full support of his wife, Amena, and to the delight of his sons, Kazim, 3, and Zain, 2.

“They think it’s normal to go to the fire station and jump on the fire truck,” he said.

Taqi explained that he wanted to be both a firefighter and a doctor when he was growing up.

“Living in Troy, I found a way to do both,” he said.

He said his schedule in the ER allows him to train and make the required runs.

Taqi said he works primarily as a firefighter on runs, rather than as a paramedic, although he helps out with his medical training in critical situations when needed.

For him, his most vivid memories are the friendships forged over the years.

“Friendships have grown … very good people and very good friendships,” he said. “The volunteer spirit is alive and well, and provides great service to the city of Troy.”