Christmas Day was a sad day for many in South Jersey, as a young lady - a young hero - lost her life on her way to doing what she loved.

Natalie Dempsey, 21, lost her life in a tragic accident Christmas morning, on the way to a fire call.

Dempsey was a volunteer firefighter for the Mizpah Fire Company. She had just become Vice-President of the Fire Company, and was well on her way to a life of service and dedication to helping others. I've read several posts which say Natalie was also hoping to become a police officer.

She was certainly a shining star.

I don't think I ever had the chance to meet Natalie, but if I did, I hope that I would have remembered to thank her for her service.

To be so young and so involved in her community's well-being, she must have been a very special person.

(On a side note, we lost several more young people in another tragic accident this week - this one an accident in Toms River. So much sadness, at the happiest time of the year...)

To be a volunteer firefighter takes the utmost dedication. There's constant training, constant meetings, and constant calls for service. While we use the term "volunteer" it's so much more than that. These firefighters are literally putting their lives on the line for our protection.

Often they must fund raise just to make sure their equipment if up-to-date. Many times, they must shell out their own money. Yes, as volunteers they are not paid one cent.

Yet, as volunteers, their lives revolve around waiting for the next call, and responding to a fire, a rescue, an accident. Heck, most departments in our area are also the ones who bring Santa Claus to our neighborhoods!

To be a volunteer you must live by the word "sacrifice." You must be willing to leave whatever your doing, with no notice, to answer the call. This means always being ready to leave work, play, school events, weddings, funerals, church, birthday parties, and everything else... all to help someone else.

(None of this is meant to lessen the importance of PAID firefighters - they are heroes, too.)

24 hours a day, 7 days a week, most volunteers are on call, ready to risk their life for YOU and ME.

Maybe you don't live in an area where a volunteer department works. That doesn't mean they're not going to help you if you crash your car on their streets. Volunteer firefighters belong to all of us.

Please, in memory of young Natalie, and others who have lost their lives in the service to others, please think about the following:

*Consider volunteering in you own community. If not as a firefighter, as someone doing something.

*The next time you see a fundraiser for a volunteer fire department, HELP! Stop at the bake sale, go to the spaghetti dinner, drop some cash into the coin drop.

*Pull over when you see the flashing lights. We all know to pull over for the flashing red lights and sirens, but remember to do that for the silent blue flashing lights of the volunteer firefighter on their way to save someone's loved one.

Thank you Natalie, may you rest in peace. You're a hero in our book.

Sign up for the WPG Talk Radio 95.5 Newsletter

Get South Jersey news and information e-mailed to you every week.