Rodney Breitbach and his firefighting partner enters a master bedroom filled with smoke. Downstairs, the fire blazes. Broken glass crunches underfoot. Breitbach drops to his hands and knees, lungs searching for fresh air. He can’t turn back — not now. Someone could be here.

Breitbach recalls one of the many experiences he has had during his decades-long career as a volunteer firefighter.

“When we got to the bed in the master bedroom, I noticed what looked like someone under the covers,” Breitbach said. “My heart was beating very hard. I was afraid of what we might find. I pulled the covers back only to find several pillows and a blanket under the covers. I looked back at my partner. We both took a deep breath and continued our search. We didn’t find anyone in the house that morning. We did, however, have a good laugh afterwards.“

Not all missions are as successful.

“Not all emergency responses end on a happy note,” Breitbach said. “You train to save lives and property, but you can’t trade a life for a life. Property is replaceable. Lives are not.”

Breitbach spent 25 years volunteering as a firefighter. At first, he assumed he would only do it for a short period of time, but something has kept him there.

“There is a bond that is built when you work closely with other people,” Breitbach said. “The more sweat, hard work, and even a little play makes the bond that much stronger. It was very hard to walk away.”

Part of a team

Breitbach said teamwork is critical to the success of any mission.

“While there are many stories, it is important to understand that no task was done alone,” Breitbach said. “You work as a team or someone can get hurt. You always want to return home to your family and friends.”

Breitbach is now a science teacher and demonstrates his leadership skills every day in the classroom. Mark Hager, a social studies teacher at Century High School, recognizes this.

“I’ve known him for 18 years; he’s always been a ‘take-charge’ guy,” Hager said. “Whenever anything came up at the school — not that we ever had any dire emergencies — he was always the guy who would be right there.“

Kevin Ziegler is another science teacher who works with Breitbach.

“He’s been teaching for a while; his leadership comes from experience,” Ziegler said. “A lot of times, we look to him for answers to questions or opinions on something.”

A vital service

Though some would never have considered volunteering as a firefighter because of the risks involved, Breitbach says that service is vital.

“Public volunteer service is an important part of the American way of life,” Breitbach said. “Don’t expect to get paid for everything you do. We all tend to have more time than money. Spending your time can lead to memories that no amount of money can buy. The friendships I found, as a part of the Bismarck Rural Fire Department, would never have happened if I hadn’t taken the opportunity to become a part of something bigger than me.”