Mike St. Onge, resident of Seven Lakes West, was voted to be Fire Chief at the Eagle Springs Fire Department on January 10th, 2017.
St. Onge began his career in firefighting when he became a volunteer on a rescue squad in Aberdeen at the age of fourteen. At eighteen, St. Onge became a firefighter member.
St. Onge took a break from his firefighting career for short time after marriage, but then realized his desire to help the community after the attacks of 9/11. He then joined the West End Fire Department where he became Deputy Chief before his transfer to Eagle Springs three years ago.
“[I’ve made] many changes,” St. Onge said. “It’s a smaller department with a smaller budget.”
His goal is to build up the group of volunteers, especially in the Junior Firefighter Program which currently has no members.
“People don’t volunteer like they used to,” St. Onge said.
With the Junior Firefighter Program, volunteers as young as the age of sixteen have the opportunity to proceed with training at Sandhills Community College [SCC]. This training is fully funded by the Fire Department.
Volunteers may not receive their certificates until they are eighteen, but they can complete all necessary training to become a firefighter – expense-free. Certificates may be obtained through SCC as soon as their eighteenth birthday.
“More and more kids stay home,” St. Onge said. “[They] don’t go outside anymore. [We] give them something to do at sixteen. [We] show them how to do a job. When they turn eighteen, they can do this as a job.”
With the program, young volunteers train with and under the supervision of firefighter members.
“We expose them as much as possible without danger,” he said.
Studies prove that an individual who joins the fire department before the age of eighteen has an eighty percent chance of staying after eighteen.
“[People] who are twenty and thirty already have jobs and children,” St. Onge said. “At eighteen, you don’t have that. They get interested and stick with it.”
“The main objective is to bring people in,” he continued. “It doesn’t matter if they’re sixteen or sixty-five, male or female. To improve the community, we have to start somewhere. [We can] do something to pull the community together.”
After becoming certified firefighters, individuals may apply to become members of paid staff at a fire department.
“The demand for paid staff is going up,” St. Onge said.
Volunteers receive benefits including retirement income and life insurance. Volunteers are also given call-pay – meaning volunteers receive money for each emergency call they assist.
“[If we have] more people, [that’s] more help if something happens. We plan for the worst and hope for the best,” St. Onge said.
The Eagle Springs Fire Department is located at 1932 NC HWY 211 in Eagle Springs and currently focuses on fire, rescue, and EMS. There are two members of paid staff at the fire station seven days a week from 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM. To contact the Eagle Springs Fire Department, call (910) 673-5673.