By Kimberly Pistone
ANNA – Longtime fire volunteer Pat Freisthler is celebrating 48 years with the Anna Fire Department. He credits his long tenure with the department both to his supportive spouse and to the feeling of belonging that the brotherhood of firefighters share.
When Freisthler first joined the AFD in 1975 all firefighters were issued a rubber raincoat, hip wader boots, cotton gloves with a rubber coating, and an eggshell helmet. If anyone wanted better safety gear, they had to buy it themselves. Most volunteers did not want to make the investment. “Back then we cooked in our own gear,” Freisthler reminisced, recalling the way his old gear held in the sweat and heat.
Not only has equipment and training changed and improved over the years, expectations of the community have changed as well. Now volunteer fire departments are more professional- not only in their equipment, but also with their training. “When people call they expect no less from volunteers than they do the paid departments. We are all professionals, but some are paid and we are volunteer,” said Freisthler.
Freisthler became a volunteer firefighter right out of high school. Both of his brothers started as volunteers with the AFD, but he is the only one who stuck with it. “It’s not an easy job, but it’s the most rewarding volunteer experience you can have,” he said.
In addition to being a volunteer firefighter, he dedicates his time volunteering at The DoGood Restaurant in Osgood and the soup kitchen in Sidney.
Freisthler enjoys cooking for his fellow firefighters. He likes to make them breakfast; he also makes them meals after a hard run. Around Christmas 2022 the department had 12 calls, some of them critical. After one especially difficult call, volunteers returned from their run to find that Freisthler had prepared a warm meal of chicken noodle soup and chicken sandwiches for them.
To Freisthler, the best thing about being a volunteer firefighter is being a part of the brotherhood: it is like a second family. “You get to watch people come and go, and watch their children grow. Sometimes the children join the department. Just like a family, sometimes there is a personality conflict, but in the end you can’t hold a grudge and issues have to be resolved. We are fortunate to have Chief Bender to look out for us. And we look out for each other.”
Freisthler still goes on some calls, but not as many as he used to. Now he is a mentor and a father figure to the volunteers of the AFD.
When Freisthler first joined, he did not expect to be with the AFD for so long, but now he plans to stay for at least 50 years. Chief Tim Bender said, “We want to keep him. He’s got to stay.”
Bender continued, “He has trained three chiefs. That’s the truth. He is a mentor for me and most everyone here. Friend. Brother. Father. We consider him an icon for us. Institutional knowledge is priceless and that is what we have with Pat.”