March 04, 2009

On the Edge of my Chair

The weather is awful: up to 70° F. yesterday or more, and wind, wind, and more wind. A grass fire at Fort Carson (started in a training area, hmmmm) burned more than 6,000 acres yesterday and is still going. I went ahead and dressed today in jeans and a shirt that I could wear to a fire, if the call comes, since my official fire-resistant green pants and yellow shirt are on order.

The trouble is that a call did come on Monday afternoon via the telephone tree, and I did not know whether to do or not (nor did the caller). Not only was I short on the “correct” gear, but I have not yet had the wild-fire-fighting training session—it is scheduled for this weekend. That will give me the “red card,” making me legit for wild-land fires on federal land. (But I know already what a shovel and a pulaski are for!)

So I did not go out on that particular grass fire, but I now know that I could have gone, since it was on private land. I called T., the asst. fire chief, on Tuesday morning and learned that distinction. So I feel like a bit of a fake, like I dodged doing what I should have done, although T. was mellow about it.

The down side of being in this tiny volunteer department is that training, etc., just sort of happens. The “red card” training is actually sponsored by the Florence VFD, although our people are welcome and the department will pay the $65 tuition. Having spent the last 19 years working in university bureaucracy, I have to adapt to this more apprenticeship mode.

Yesterday (Tuesday) I filled my canteen and made sure what gear I have was all in order. The wind howled around the house all day. When the telephone did ring, I grabbed it breathlessly, only to have it be some CU-Boulder student “dialing for dollars” in a fund-raiser aimed at alumni.


Reid Farmer said...

When I took the dogs outside first thing this morning I saw two Blackhawk helos headed south over our house. I'm assuming they were on their way to support the fire fighting. I expected to see smoke down that direction but didn't - maybe the wind is blowing it away from us or something

Anonymous said...

In Suffolk County, New York, where I live, all the fire departments are volunteer despite the fact that it's a densely populated county with more than 1.3 million residents. Almost all of the departments face severe manpower shortages because the state-mandated training requirements are so onerous, totally opposite to what you've encountered. My local department requires four hours of training at the firehouse every Monday evening, three or four shorter drills during the course of each month, and at least an evening or two each month at the county training academy. It all works out to about six to eight hours per week. That's a lot to ask of volunteers.


Chas S. Clifton said...

As you can see from my follow-up post, we are pretty much a learn-by-doing department.

I am surprised that Suffolk Co. does not have tax-levying fire districts. Are residents already so burdened with high real-estate taxes that they fight any proposals for more?

You would think that paid firefighters would lower their insurance rates.

Anonymous said...

Each community in Suffolk (and nearby Nassau) county has its own fire department with taxing authority. This leads to great duplication of effort, with departments buying far more equipment than they'll realistically need, especially with mutual aid. It's been claimed that Nassau and Suffolk counties, with a total population of about 2.6 million, have more fire engines than New York City and Los Angeles combined. The fire departments also seem to compete against one another to build enormous, palatial firehouses.

What with the duplication of efforts and the elaborate firehouses, some estimates say that it actually would be cheaper to scrap the volunteer departments in favor of a paid countywide fire department. Any cost savings would be welcome as taxes in the area are exhorbitant. Unfortunately, there is a very strong tradition of volunteer departments, dating back to when Long Island's population was much smaller and the demand for fire services far more limited, and despite totally changed conditions old traditions die hard. It is possible, however, that the increasing manpower shortages may force some change.


Chas S. Clifton said...

OK, so there are tax districts -- but moving toward professionalizing and consolidating would encounter incredible political resistance.

Do these "volunteers" get stipends for attending training, etc. I know that it works that way some places -- but not here. My dept. is supported only by donations and a few grants.