Preparing for work is stressful for Mohammed Mohammed.
“I’m thinking it could be the last time I’m putting my gear on — I don’t know what I’m going to run into,” Mohammed said. “I always take it seriously.”
A volunteer firefighter in Ashland, Virginia, Mohammed came to the United States as a refugee from Iraq in 2009. The problems he saw in Iraq inspired him “to help those who can’t help themselves.”
“I want to make a positive difference in the lives of others,” he said. “I am filled with a joy and elation to know that by helping it could truly make a difference.”
Mohammed is one of millions of Americans who give their time as volunteers every year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that about 63 million Americans volunteered at least once between September 2013 and September 2014.
Most of America’s firefighters — an estimated 69 percent — are volunteers, according to the National Volunteer Fire Council.
Mohammed’s volunteer service deepened his community involvement, and even earned him a bit of recognition. “People notice me when I go grocery shopping … and say, ‘I remember you when you came on a call,'” Mohammed said.
Ashland Volunteer Fire Company District Chief Phillip Hutcheson has worked with Mohammed for about three years.
“Mohammed is someone interested in giving back to the community; he’s not taking it for granted,” Hutcheson said. “He’s been well accepted by this community.”
Mohammed, who works as a warehouse associate during the day, took evening and weekend classes at the fire academy for eight months before he could respond to calls.
He plans to make firefighting a career, but said competition for full-time jobs is tough. Until that happens, he’ll keep working toward his dream.
“I don’t give up. I just keep trying harder.”