The unique bond formed by volunteer firefighters is indescribable and unwavering. For Chad Culpepper, Collinsville Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief, the call to serve his community came when his sister’s home burned due to faulty electrical wiring in 1991.
“I felt helpless and I wanted to do something,” said Culpepper, who volunteers as many hours as needed to get the job done. Culpepper confides that some days are harder than others, with multiple calls coming in frequently some days, while others remain quiet. Above all, it is important to remember that volunteer firefighters balance careers, families, and other responsibilities on top of serving their communities.
For Culpepper, his responsibilities in his actual job as a maintenance man at Aldersgate Retirement Community overlap in his role with the CVFD. “Being with the CVFD has helped me in my everyday job. Working with elderly people, it gives me an opportunity to understand the blessing they can be,” said Culpepper.
Now, more than 21 years after beginning his journey as a volunteer fireman, Chad has evolved from rookie responder to seasoned mentor: “I enjoy being able to help new firefighters and EMR’s learn the way to handle themselves and to handle others.” He is a resource for new volunteers, and commends Lauderdale County for their continued dedication to providing in-depth training and equipment.
“Lauderdale County is always willing to help us any way they can to give us the training, equipment, and knowledge to save lives and protect property,” said Culpepper.
As for his personal testimony, Chad describes his role as a volunteer fireman best: “Very few can handle what we do. I’ve told everyone that what I do is a gift from God. Some people cannot remain calm and remember what to do in a situation. Keeping cool makes others calm, even when the world may be crashing around you.”
Culpepper’s tenure is heavily influenced by the heroic actions of Clyde Walker, for whom the newly constructed CVFD building is named for. The close working friendship Culpepper and Walker shared is evident, as Walker is the person who approached Culpepper about becoming a firefighter back in 1991.When asked for the single-most significant memory throughout his tenure, Culpepper shares the night of Walker’s death, when the two, along with other members of area volunteer fire departments, responded to an accident with injuries: “Clyde was going to bring the truck. When I arrived at the scene and realized it was not as bad as we had originally thought, I called Clyde’s phone to tell him he could slow down. Clyde never answered.”
Culpepper, along with numerous other firefighters from around the county and state, performed a fireman’s salute in honor of Clyde Walker at his funeral.
The father of three says that for those interested in serving their communities through volunteer fire departments should have courage, integrity, and a willingness to serve: “Don’t ever say that this is something you cannot do. I’ve seen volunteers come in that couldn’t wait to get to a fire and it scared them to death. I’ve seen others that said they couldn’t do it — those are the people I can now trust and rely on.”
“Firefighting is a brotherhood. It’s never leaving or forgetting your partner. You put your lives in each other’s hands. It’s a bond you can’t explain. We’re attacking this monster together,” shares Culpepper.
In his spare time, Culpepper enjoys spending time with his wife Ellie, and children Andrew, Jessie, and Lexi.
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