In countless towns across the land, everyday heroes can be found anywhere – even in the smallest of places. And in one tiny southwest Arkansas community of only 285 residents, it’s no different.
Janet Choate has been a part of the Blevins, Arkansas, community for decades and still calls the small town home today. For a day job, she makes the 15-mile trip to Hope, Arkansas, where she serves as a commercial loan officer with Farmers Bank & Trust. In her spare time, though, she and her husband, Tim, spend much of their lives at the Blevins Fire Department, where they volunteer as local first responders and firefighters. Tim is chief of the two-bay station, while Janet helps respond to fires and emergency and medical situations of all sorts. Both are trained emergency workers with countless hours of training and real-world experience under their belts.
For 20 years, Janet has been a part of the Blevins Fire Department. She joined the agency in October 2002 and has responded to hundreds of emergency and rescue calls during that time. Since Blevins FD is an all-volunteer service, the 12-person roster is tasked with responding to emergency calls within and around the small town. Sure, the agency has mutual aid agreements with surrounding communities and towns, but the immediate response often lies at the feet of the dedicated few within Blevins.
“We respond to almost anything,” said Janet. “We’ve even helped a get a cat out of a tree before.”
The small fire department, however, is not without resources. The department contains two pumper trucks, a tanker truck, a service truck, and even a new side-by-side ATV for hard-to-reach wooded areas.
“We’ve been really lucky,” said Janet. “Tim and the fire department have been able to get us so much equipment through donations and grants. We can handle a lot of situations here in Blevins.”
Janet and Tim are also right in the middle of the action in Blevins. The couple resides directly next to the town’s largest and most well-known attraction, Hillarosa ATV Park. The 2,000-acre recreational area and tourist destination has hosted multiple large-scale events over the years, including Mud Nationals 2022, which is one the biggest ATV celebrations in the region. That means lots of people flock to Blevins for these events, but that also means there are plenty of opportunities for emergency calls during the festivities.
“We see plenty during those big events,” said Janet. “We live right next door, so we are always pretty close to the action.”
Farmers Bank & Trust, where Janet spends her time during the work week, has also been a big supporter of the Blevins Fire Department. The Arkansas-based lender, through its charitable foundation, recently donated $5,000 to the agency to help equip the new side-by-side ATV for off-site fire and rescue tasks. The move will help Janet and the rest of the rescue team access hard-to-reach areas of the ATV park and its surrounding rural acreage.
“Sometimes, there can be accidents and injuries at the park, and we’re able to get to them pretty quickly, especially now,” she added.
The bank has also accommodated Janet when an incident occurs during the day. When she was previously the branch manager at the Farmers Bank & Trust location in Blevins, she was always allowed to respond to calls should an incident occur.
“If we had an emergency call and we had to staff to cover, they would always let me leave to go respond,” she said.
One of Janet’s more memorable experiences as part of Blevins FD actually came from a child who retained a few life-saving tips from a fire-prevention class held at the station. The program is performed annually for school-aged little ones, and during each session, the firefighters instruct kids on how to plan for and execute an evacuation from their home.
“We just try to tell them to set up an escape plan ahead of time, so if you ever are in a hurry, you already know what to do,” she said.
That particular fire-prevention session paid off in a big way.
“We had just held a class that day, and then a two-story house burned that afternoon,” said Janet. “The kids were able to get everyone out using what they had learned earlier in the day. The kids even had their parents set a ladder to the second floor. It was truly a life-saving event. I don’t know if everyone would have gotten out without what they had just learned.”
NOT SLOWING DOWN
With two decades already under her belt, Janet, along with Tim, is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon.
“I guess we will stay with the fire department until we can’t really do it any longer,” said Janet. “It’s just been such a part of our family and our lives for so long now.”
And a family affair it is. The desire to be a first responder is not limited to just Janet and Tim. The couple’s son-in-law is also a full-time professional fireman in Conway, Arkansas.
“I guess we’re just all over the place,” said Tim. “We probably wouldn’t have it any other way.”