Finding community through firefighting
Growing up, Neal Hammond dreamed of one career: firefighting.
The 32-year-old Banks native vividly remembers a kindergarten coloring contest he entered to win a ride to school in a fire engine. While all the other kids rushed, Hammond diligently shaded until the last second to secure the prize.
“From that point forward, I kind of knew what I wanted to do,” Hammond said.
Now, Hammond serves his community as a training and duty officer with the Banks Fire District.
Hammond, who was hired full-time last year, did not recently begin helping his community. Preparation started in high school when he volunteered for the fire district, which he continued for nine years.
Though firefighting has always been his calling, Hammond said that the strain of work is difficult to balance with his family.
Hammond, a father of three, talked about how he took a hiatus from volunteer firefighting to focus on his full-time job and family. As a firefighter, Hammond said his nonstop schedule prevents him from always being with his kids.
“I have to miss some things,” Hammond said. “If I’m on shift, I get off at 7 in the morning. And it’s making sure I get things wrapped up so I can go home and see the kids before they go to school.”
Another challenge is working within his community, according to Hammond. Having spent the majority of his life in Banks, Hammond said he knows a lot of the people he comes across as he responds to calls.
“I’ve responded on family members. I’ve responded on close friends and folks I grew up with,” Hammond said.
Despite the challenges of taking on emergencies involving loved ones, Hammond said that it has been an “honor” to serve the community he grew up in, and he has made even deeper connections to the people surrounding him.
Susie Jurgensen is one Banks resident that Hammond has grown closer with through his work.
“He was at my parent’s when my dad had a heart attack and then again when they had a house fire,” Jurgensen said. “He was very caring and kind.”
After assisting Jurgensen and her family, Hammond also took time to help out at a local Christmas event that Jurgensen throws every year.
“He also volunteered without question when I asked him to be the Grinch at our community-invited Christmas event,” Jurgensen said. “He did a great job and kept the kids entertained.”
Beyond finding deeper roots in the community that he loves, Hammond expressed the gratification he finds by being there for others.
“People are calling you when they’re having their worst day. So I take a lot of pride in that, and I want to be there and I want to perform to the best of my ability,” Hammond said. “I feel very fortunate that I get to do this — that I get to serve my community.”
As a training officer, Hammond said he wants to work toward revamping fire education in high school programs to ignite passion in others to help their communities. While he fulfilled his dream, he is focused on helping others carry out their goals.
“There’s nothing that makes me more proud than seeing people that I’ve had an impact on go on and be successful in their careers,” Hammond said. “One thing I’d love to do is kind of recreate or revamp it to where it really gets kids energized to join the fire service.”