De Soto, MO (KSDK) - In small, rural communities in both Illinois and Missouri, volunteer firefighters take on the same roles as paid firefighters.
Some cover large areas like the De Soto Rural Fire department which covers 40 percent of Jefferson County, Missouri. Out of the departments 50 firefighters, only 13 of them are paid and they all describe the department as a brotherhood or family.
Looking at the men and women of the Desoto Rural Fire department, you can't tell a difference of who's paid and who's a volunteer.
"The difference between a paid guy and a volunteer: a check," says volunteer firefighter Jonathan Pena.
He explains that they all get called to the same fires and they all wear the same uniform and use the same equipment.
"We all go through the same training and that's regardless whether you've been a firefighter a year or 30 plus years," says Pena.
The department is constantly training each firefighter volunteer or not, logging hundreds of training hours every year. Fire Chief Paul Mayer says thankfully they've never had a tragedy that he can remember with one of his men or women.
"If you ask any fire chief that will be the thing they never want to go through," says Chief Mayer.
He explains that a death within the department is the ultimate tragedy, but a volunteer who's asking for nothing in return of his or her service, would be heart wrenching.
"If you lose either one, it's a tragic, tragic thing, but to lose a volunteer that is just the worst thing I could think of," says Chief Mayer.
So what's in it for them? Why put your life on the line and not get paid? For most the job is the reward in itself.
"I sleep well at night knowing that I can be there to help when others are in need and no one else is there for them," says Pena.
And in places like rural Jefferson County the volunteers are a necessity.
"Virtually every single house fire we would go on, would be in the basement, if we could not rely on volunteers," says Chief Mayer.