By Scott Costen
Responding to the scene of a serious car accident, Krista Barton had no idea her small physical stature would make such a big difference.
All the passengers had been rescued from a perilously overturned vehicle. Barton, still learning the ropes as a volunteer firefighter, was called upon to get the driver out.
“They needed a smaller person to get in the car and shift the driver, so the other firefighters could pull her out,” she recalled.
It was painstaking, difficult work. The victim had to be moved gently — and as little as possible — to protect her spinal column.
“So one minute, I was standing there talking to my deputy chief,” Barton said. “The next one, I was a key part of possibly saving someone else’s life.”
For Krista, firefighting is a family tradition.
Her husband Naaman Barton has been a Liverpool firefighter for more than 12 years, having joined the department in his late teens. Before that, he was a junior firefighter.
Krista’s father, Steven Kennedy, is also a local firefighter.
So, when she joined the department more than three years ago, it probably came as no surprise to those who know her.
“The interest started with my dad when I was little,” she said. “And then with Naaman, I would hear about what he was doing, how he was helping people, and I thought, ‘I want to do that.'”
‘These two make it work’
Krista’s first two applications to join the Liverpool fire service were rejected.
Naaman said this was based largely on fears that a firefighting couple with three young children would be unable to fully commit to the department’s hectic and unpredictable schedule.
For the first while after Krista was finally accepted, the couple had an agreement that the more experienced Namaan would take the lead on the most serious calls. Nowadays, whoever gets out the door first takes priority on a page, although there are many calls where both are on scene.
“For example, Christmas Day we had 26 calls that we had to go out on,” Naaman said. “Every firefighter in Liverpool was out that day. It went from 10 o’clock that morning right up to 11 o’clock that night.”
The wind storm that day downed numerous trees and power poles, prompting a full-scale deployment of fire personnel and equipment, he said. “The only thing that was left in our fire station for units was a boat.”
While a juggling act on the best of days, the couple has found a way to meet its professional and family obligations, as well as its commitments to the fire service.
“There are unique challenges to having both parents of young children as active members,” said 2nd deputy chief John Long. “But these two make it work the best they can, which also says a lot about the grandparents.”
These sentiments were echoed by honorary deputy chief David Payzant. “Their devotion to the fire service and commitment to their friends and family is an inspiration,” he said.
In fact, the Bartons have “made it work” so well that they’ve earned votes of confidence up and down the ranks of the Liverpool fire service.
“I have nothing but the utmost trust and respect for both Naaman and Krista,” said firefighter John Baker. “No matter what the situation, I know I can trust both of them to have my back.”
Time is the greatest sacrifice
While the couple has found a way to balance their various responsibilities, the life of a volunteer firefighter is not without its costs.
“The toughest part is the time you’re away from your family and the things you have to miss out on,” said Naaman, a fuel truck driver for Irving Oil. “We don’t get to determine when somebody needs our help.”
A veteran firefighter who has held officer positions within the Liverpool department, Naaman said responding to calls is not the only time commitment. There’s also the dedication to training and development.
“It takes a tremendous amount of time to become a full-fledged firefighter and gain the experience needed to be a leader in the fire service,” he said.
Krista, a personal care worker and school bus driver, agreed that time is generally the biggest sacrifice volunteer firefighters need to make. That means time away from the couple’s 9-year-old son Tytan and 6-year-old twin daughters Mya and Tiana.
Service has its rewards
As volunteer firefighters, Naaman and Krista do not get paid for their efforts. They’re entitled to a special vehicle plate from the provincial government and a small tax credit from the federal government, but that’s it.
Still, life in the Liverpool fire service has its rewards. The couple believe helping community members in need is the greatest payback. The adrenaline rush they get from an action-packed call is often a close second.
“For me, it means so much when people come up and just say, ‘Thank you’,” Naaman said.
There’s also the satisfaction of how much their children enjoy it — and the example it’s setting for them.
“They love it,” said Krista. “They grew up with Naaman in the fire service and really enjoyed the stories of him driving a fire truck or going into a building.” Sometimes, depending on the situation, Krista would even drive the kids to a call to watch their father.
“And then when I got in, they thought that was the best thing ever,” Krista said. “They like to tell stories at school about how both their parents are firefighters. They’ve even done projects on us.”
Beyond the “cool” factor of both parents being firefighters, the couple’s devotion to civic duty is not lost on their kids. Naaman said Tytan has already shown an interest in volunteering to help others in the community. There could very well be more Bartons in the Liverpool fire service in the future, he said.
If the Barton kids want a good example of their dad fighting a fire, they can always look up the following video on YouTube.
In April 2017, The Queens County Citizen captured video of Naaman in action during a house fire on Great Hill Rd. in Brooklyn. He’s the one up on the roof, venting the top of the burning building with an axe.
“That was definitely a hard fire,” he said. “It was paged out as a chimney fire, but when we rolled up it was a house on fire.”
Moral support great, but material support needed
While the community and local government are great at providing moral support, it’s material support that the Liverpool fire department really needs, Krista said.
“We do have support from the community,” she said. “But there are a lot of things as a fire department that we need that we don’t have, or that we don’t have enough funding to get.”
Trucks, equipment and gear are either in short supply or need to be upgraded, she said.
Naaman has firsthand knowledge of how quickly firefighting kit needs to be replaced. His helmet and turnout gear (protective suit) were both taken out of service after the blaze that destroyed the main lodge at White Point Beach Resort in 2011.
“That helmet was brand new,” he said. “But because of the heat level in that building, my helmet, my turnout gear, my mask and breathing apparatus — they all had to be taken out of service.”