Sigel native Joe Vogt is a farmer by day and a volunteer firefighter by night.

Vogt said he tends to his beef cattle on his farm in rural Sigel and then attends fire department meetings at night, once farm chores are done.

“I’m farming a lot during the day time when the sun’s out,” Vogt said. “Fire meetings are usually during the evenings once things here at the farm have wrapped up for the day.”

Vogt, 28, is a life-long farmer, and he said he has been a volunteer firefighter for the Sigel Fire Protection District since he was 18 years old.

Vogt grew up on his parents’ dairy farm, and as a child, he helped to feed and tend to cows and bottle-feed calves. He said his parents sold the dairy cows in 1999, and the farm had no livestock until 2005 when his family purchased beef cows.

Now, the Vogt farm is home to 120 animals, including 60 beef cows, heifers, calves and steers. Vogt said he purchased one-third of the farm back in 2013, and he still helps with the beef cow and crop operation.

While farming takes up much of his time, Vogt is still a committed member of the fire department. He said that being a farmer has helped him in his work with the department, too.

“Being on the volunteer fire department in a rural ag community, we’ve responded to several hay barn fires, so knowing how farm buildings are constructed and being a farmer kind of helps with knowing how to attack a fire,” Vogt said.

His farming background has also helped in field fire situations. He said knowing how crops are grown has helped him contain those fires.

Vogt said balancing farming and firefighting can get a little tricky. However, Vogt said he is able to squeeze fire training in in the wintertime when farming chores have died down.

“Balancing both is a chore some days, especially in the spring and fall when we’re busy with planting season and harvest,” Vogt said. “I’ve always been fairly committed to the fire department when the pager goes off, I usually drop what I’m doing, and I go.”

Many area fire departments rely on committed volunteers like Vogt. The Montrose Fire Protection District is one of those departments.

Half of the most reliable responders are farmers, said Montrose Fire Chief Chris "Chopper" Overbeck.

The commitment is extensive. Overbeck said he wants his crew to reach the "Firefighter One" status, which takes about 240 hours of training. Additionally, there are meetings every two weeks, where firefighters go through training, maintain equipment and deal with organizational matters.

Seventy percent of firefighters are volunteers, according to the National Fire Prevention Association.

For one of the Montrose firefighters, farming and fighting fires came to a head.

Lee Elliott was working on his farm and working to dry corn. When he powered up the blower and started the fans, the whole bin began to burn. Members of the Montrose department were on scene and managed to put the grain bin out.

Neighbors had previously suggested he join the program, but the blaze was what he needed to get involved.

Now, Elliott has served as a volunteer firefighter for nearly a decade.

His involvement makes him feel like he's paying it forward to racking up good karma, he said.

He said the training has also helped him maintain a safer farm. The training with grain bin entrapment left him more aware of the risks involved, making him willing to try other methods or use special equipment.

His response is simplified by the fact his farm has multiple people working. That means he can fight a fire, rescue a child or help lift an elderly person while the others keep the farm running.

Montrose Assistant Fire Chief Todd Weishaar finds fulfilment in the job.

"When that tone drops, somebody's having a worse day than me, normally," he said.

He's worked in the department for about a decade, responding to the 60 or so calls they do a year.

In that time he's learned "you get out of it what you put into it."

That helps move him through putting people in body bags or sawing corpses out of wrecked cars.

Volunteer firefighter Fred Firewalt said farming presents its own problems for response. He's gotten a call while sitting in a combine, far from a truck that could get him to the scene.

In almost all cases, he still piles out and hurries to the vehicle, something that's grown harder after being in the department for 25 years.

He said it's a real boost to know that, if someone needs help, he can provide it.

Volunteer firefighting has also been an educational experience, teaching him far more about fire, car construction and medicine than he would have ever learned without it.

Graham Milldrum contributed to this report

Kaitlin Cordes can be reached at kaitlin.cordes@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151.

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