February 19, 2009

A Newbie in the "Militia"

After getting the brush-off from the local Search & Rescue group last May, I went on about life, but the idea of wanting to contribute more to the community stuck with me.

The solution was easy, actually. I called the neighbor whose backhoe-service I use when a water line needs to be dug up. I knew that he was active with the local volunteer fire department.

"How can I get involved?" I asked.

"Our next meeting is January 28th at 7 p.m.," he said. "Come on down."

And that was it. No paperwork, just a handshake.

Right: The departmental patch is generic. Custom patches cost money.

Another neighbor had tried to recruit me several years ago, but I begged off because I worked in Pueblo, 40 miles away, and was away from home a lot. Instead, I always made sure to write a check for the department's annual fund-raising drive.

I work at home now, so I don't have that excuse anymore. Writing a check seems inadequate when you see the volunteers' old truck heading up a gravel road towards a smoke column.

The issue hereabouts is usually wildfire threatening rural homes. They (we) can get there much sooner than the "feds," the interagency (BLM-Forest Service) crew from Cañon City, who have a larger area to cover.

Hence the analogy: the local militia and the "regulars" from the fort.

So far, I have attended one meeting, which was devoted partly to planning training sessions and partly to choosing a date for the fall chile cook-off fundraiser.

I have ordered a shirt at the uniform store--mainly for wearing at such fundraisers--and bought a pair of high, leather, lace-up boots at the Army surplus store so that I don't have to wear my good Patagonia hiking boots if walking through embers, etc.

Last night was the first training session, held in conjunction with the Florence VFD (which is much larger), on wildfire behavior--the influences of terrain, weather, etc.

To a Forest Service brat like me, it was all familiar territory, but newly urgent, especially when sprinkled with anecdotes from local fires--like the grass fire on the prairie east of here last Monday.

Back when the republic was young, they defined the militia as "the yeomanry of America from sixteen to sixty." (For more on that issue, see Stephen Halbrook.) Some of these volunteers are well past sixty. The department needs new blood. I was glad to see a thirty-something couple show up at last night's meeting as well.

For now, I am the new guy who has to learn almost everything. Undoubtedly there will be stuff to blog about.


Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Not much as changed on the books.

The Colorado Constitution provides (and has since its adopting in 1876) that: "The militia of the state shall consist of all able-bodied male residents of the state between the ages of eighteen and forty-five yearsl except, such persons as may be eempted by the laws of the United States, or of the state." Colorado Constitution, Article XVII, Section 1. This is largely of theoretical and historical interest, but it is still there.

More notably, the Sheriff retains the power to deputize people(Section 30-10-506, Colorado Revised Statutes), has a duty to respond to prairie fires if no other arrangement is in place to respond (Section 30-10-513, CRS) and in unicorporated areas on private property (Section 30-10-513.5), and has the power to "call to their aid such person of their county as they may deem necessary" to preserve the peace (i.e. to call up a posse) (Section 30-10-516).

The power to call up a posse has been applied in recent times to provide a basis for awarding worker's compensation type benefits to people injured while assisting law enforcement at the request of law enforcement (e.g. to apprehend a fleeing criminal).

Chas S. Clifton said...

Here in the County Named for the Cavalry Tactician, no one waits for the sheriff to deputize them.

The Sheriff's Posse has an ad in the newspaper seeking volunteers. Training required, horsemanship a plus.