July 18, 2008

I was working from my home office this afternoon when my fire pager went off in the middle of a phone call. My neighbor’s house caught fire after he left a pan on the stove, and in spite of our best efforts it was a total loss. We saved the outbuildings and kept it from spreading with the 20 mph wind to the nearby fields, but otherwise quite a dispiriting afternoon and evening. The only blessings were that no one was hurt and it wasn’t two weeks later with the wheat field fully ripe and ready to explode into flame.

It’s not the first time I’ve had to tell a client “I’m sorry, I have to go now” with multiple pager tones sounding in the background. My rural clients understand a fire department call without explanation, I’m not sure this client understood. I’ve sent apologetic e-mails to my client as well as the organizer of a BBQ that I missed this evening. That’s life in the country.

The fire call reminded me of another motivation for improving the rural economic climate. There was way too much gray hair on the fire ground today. We have a few younger folks joining up, and they are much appreciated, but the pool is just too small as employment opportunities shrink. Volunteer fire departments rely on self employed entrepreneurs as a major source of recruits, people who have the ability to control their time and prioritize community service high on their list. We need people who live and work in the same rural area rather than commuting many miles away. We need more economic opportunity in the countryside, and a healthier business climate for more successful start-ups.