On the Front Lines: Joseph Hardin
A lineage of service
Photos by Jeronimo Nisa and contributed
Joseph Hardin is continuing a long family legacy of serving his community. The chief at Oak Ridge Volunteer Fire Department and a national guardsman, Hardin said he serves to help not only his family but his community.
Hardin said the training he receives empowers him to be able to serve those around him. Between his time at Oak Ridge Volunteer Fire Department and his 23 years with the National Guard, he said he has had many opportunities to advance and learn more.
“A lot of it is the knowledge and the training that allows me to help my family, and I can also help other people with my knowledge and the skills I have learned. It’s kind of the same with the National Guard. I have progressed with the same unit my entire career, and I have gained the skills and knowledge to not only help my entire family but, bigger and broader, the town, the state of Alabama and the country,” Hardin said.
Hardin first got involved with Oak Ridge Volunteer Fire Department in 2002 after a friend joined and encouraged him to do the same. Despite working a full-time job, and being a husband and father, Hardin said he is passionate about his duties as chief.
“It’s like anything: If you put passion into it, you’re obviously going to be a whole lot busier. My whole time in the fire department I have been passionate about it, and my family has been passionate about it and helping me with all kinds of stuff too,” Hardin said.
In addition to providing support, Hardin’s wife is also a longtime member of the volunteer fire department, and their son has spent most of his life involved in some way. With the help of his family and other members in the department, Hardin said he has been able to grow in his career there.
“As I progressed, starting out as the rookie and getting more training, I became the maintenance captain in 2008 and then got some more training and became assistant chief in 2011. I became chief in 2015,” he said. It almost in itself is a full-time job. Luckily, I have a great assistant chief and other members of the department that help me out, but it’s basically another full-time job making sure everyone in the department is doing the best we can in the community.”
Serving others is something Hardin learned early from his parents. He said his mother volunteered and helped those in the community with mental illnesses, and his father served 24 years in the same National Guard unit where Hardin has spent his own military career. Hardin now serves alongside his nephew in that same unit.
“When I was a kid, even before I got in, I was helping my dad get his uniform ready and helping him pack his stuff when he had to do his guard duty. That was something I would do with him, and then all the extra time that he would spend at the armory when he wasn’t necessarily on drill status, I would go out there and help him,” Hardin said. “It’s kind of the same thing with my son: He will help me get my things ready and go with me to the armory when I am not on drill status … It’s all carrying on the family tradition.”
During his time with the National Guard, Hardin has been deployed twice: once in 2005 to Iraq and again in 2012 to Qatar. He has advanced through the ranks and now serves as the motor sergeant for his unit, and he said he tries to pass on his leadership training not only to his soldier, but to his officers at Oak Ridge Volunteer Fire Department.
Hardin said he also tries to pass along to those in the fire service the same advice he received starting out. “I had to learn through several members starting out young: We are not God; we work for him,” Hardin said. “We are not going to be able to save everybody, but as long as we make the best attempt we can, we are doing what we’re supposed to. That really stuck with me.
“Even the people you are not able to save their life or prevent further injury, their family will come back later on and tell you thank you, and the ones you have helped come back and thank you too,” Hardin added. “That’s what we are there for: to help people and our community. Me and my assistant chief speak often of that: We do it for the community.”
In addition to fire service, Hardin said the department is involved with emergency medical services, small-scale hazardous material cleanup, vehicle extrication, national disaster response and various educational resources for fire prevention and safety. In addition, the department has two storm shelters with a 100-person capacity to help serve the community.
Hardin said all the volunteer fire departments receive a percentage of tax money, and County Commissioner Randy Vest has worked to provide additional assistance to the department over the years. The department also relies on donations from the community.
“In 1993 or 1994 it was voted by the citizens to give all volunteer fire departments in Morgan County a percentage of tax money. From what I have heard, I don’t think other counties in Alabama get that high of a percentage of tax money,” Hardin said. “It is split evenly between all 22 volunteer fire departments in the county.”
Hardin said the department has about 25 active members with various levels of availability, and they are always looking for more volunteers. “We have a Facebook page, and there is contact information there. We also have a department phone number with an answering machine, or they can simply come to the community meetings. We have meetings the first and third Thursday of every month, and they are more than welcome to stop by there and ask questions.”
Volunteers have to meet age requirements and live reasonably nearby. “Across the county and really the whole country, volunteers for the volunteer service are getting very slim. There really is a job for everybody,” Hardin said. “Even if it’s just mowing the yard, cleaning the station, administration or if you want to do fire or EMS, or even just support service, there is a job here, to help the department and the community.”