PEKIN — Living in a small town has its perks, but when a heart stops beating or someone can’t breathe an ambulance or medical center are more than a few minutes away.

South Pekin Police and Fire Commissioner Terry Reed said the village’s volunteer firefighters are very important to the residents of South Pekin, but are running short on those taking up the task.

“It’s the lifeline of the town,” said Reed. “Volunteers, and an ambulance being so far away, even from Pekin. Say when somebody is down with a heart attack, you’ve just got minutes and you’re gone.

“All of our firefighters have basic life support training. We have probably six or eight EMTs on the department and a couple of paramedics that work for (Advance Medical Transport) Ambulance on our department. We have a very good response time, even from the dead of night when people are sleeping. We’re usually at somebody’s house within the home within three to four minutes from the time the call is dispatched. ... I’ve always been proud of them and for what resources we have.”

The South Pekin Fire Department has put out an appeal for volunteer firefighters because their numbers have fallen over the past few years.

Fire Chief Larry Byrd said the department is down to 14 members, but an optimal number would be 20. 

The ideal candidate, said Byrd, is “one who is unselfish, one who is willing to do what it takes to help out, someone who wants to help others and do the right thing.”

And, he said, people need steady nerves.

“You’ve got to be a little crazy,” said Byrd. “When everyone is running out, we’re running in. You have to be someone who is willing to do what needs to be done.”

The department responded to 315 calls last year. Approximately 90 percent of the calls are emergency medical calls. The village has EMTs and paramedics, but all firefighters have basic medical training as well.

Reed said that despite the shortage at this time, the village is covered. It has mutual aid agreements with all of the surrounding fire departments at all times. All departments are short staffed during daytime hours because members work, so each covers for the other when needed.

The village pays for all training and certification required by the state. Reed said that some of the firefighters had moved away or simply quit coming to training and meetings.

“Some kind of disappeared on us,” said Reed. “Even though we are a volunteer department, there are rules, laws that we have to go by on training.”

A firefighter applicant does not need any prior training or experience; will get one-on-one guidance through probation; must be self motivated and ready to learn; be age 18 or older; have a high school diploma or GED; a valid driver’s license; pass a physical and fitness test; and have no felony or misdemeanor convictions. 

Firefighters must live in a 5-mile radius of the town, though the village is a little lax on that rule if there is a shortage on firefighters.

Applications may be obtained at the South Pekin Village Hall, 209 W. Main St., South Pekin, IL 61564. They may be mailed to P.O. Box 10, South Pekin, IL 61564.

Follow Sharon Woods Harris at Twitter.com/sharrispekin