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Volunteer fire departments can provide their personnel with everything they need but time

Mar 19, 2014 - Craig Haslam, District chief

Editor:

The current volunteer firefighter situation in Fremont County is one that we are all concerned about. And Jerri Robinson's statements and concerns in her recent letter to the editor are ones that we have been dealing with for quite some time.

The decline in volunteers is not just a Fremont County problem. The entire nation has seen the decline in volunteerism. We have brought the topic up several times to our volunteers on what more can we do to bring more people in. This topic is being addressed by the international Association of Fire Chiefs -- Volunteer and Combination Officers Section on a national basis.

Unfortunately there is no "silver bullet" that can fix the current situation. Looking at it from an administrator's view, point we have done many things to help incentivize people to join. Fremont County Fire Protection District currently gives its volunteers membership in the Wyoming Volunteer Fireman's Pension Fund, a death and dismemberment insurance policy from Provident, and a supplemental on-duty Insurance policy. We have continued to provide our volunteers with the newest safety equipment, new firefighting apparatus, and stations to meet in.

We have done many things to try and draw more volunteers to our ranks. We provide them with everything that they need to become a @257;re@257;ghter, except perhaps the most important thing to them, their time. That is the one thing that we cannot provide.

We can provide them with every training opportunity under the sun at no cost to them, but if they cannot get the time away to attend, then it is to no avail.

So my question to all who are questioning where are the volunteers are is where is your application for membership and why aren't you volunteering?

It truly is a shame that the Morton/Kinnear pancake supper, a 40-plus-year tradition, did not take place this year. While the district supports these events wholeheartedly and believe that they are a much-needed community event, we cannot force them to do it. Battalion 5 Kinnear currently has 15 members on the roster, nine as active @257;refighters and six on Fire Corp. Fire Corp is the non-firefighting part of the district was established for those who wanted to help out, i.e. pancake suppers, etc., but did not wish to be fire@257;ghters. Fire Corp members are given some of the same benefits the firefighters get.

We believe that community events are vital art of our existence in the communities. Unfortunately, it comes down to the whole time thing once again.

Jerri, you wrote about frivolous training. I see none that is required by the district. Do we require training? Absolutely, we do. If you were to have a fire at your residence, I truly believe that you would want people who were properly trained and proficient at what they do to show up to assist you in your time of need. We do much more than just fight structure fires. We respond to motor

vehicle accidents, wildland @257;res, missing person incidents, industrial fires and accidents, floods and just about anything else that when people aren't sure who to call.

So how do we @257;t training in for all of these types of incidents, and then the eight that are required by OSHA every year? We require that our @257;re@257;ghters are certified as Wyoming Fire@257;ghter in structural @257;re@257;ghting , NWCG (National Wild@257;re Coordinating Group) wildland firefighter, and to have a Class B driver's license.

However, there are many of our volunteers who have gone on to exceed have these requirements because they want to provide their communities with the best possible service that they can.

Are these requirements demanding? Yes they are, but so is the profession that we are in. What we do as @257;re@257;ghters is very demanding, and also dangerous.

Unfortunately, the United State has an average of more than 100 @257;re@257;ghters

die in the line of duty every year. I have attended some of those funerals in our own state, and | pray every day that it never happens to one of my @257;re@257;ghters. That is the main reason that I am so adamant about training. We have a deputy chief assigned specifically to training.

A couple weeks ago Mr. Peck made a comment in his editorial making a distinction between volunteers and professionals. What I believe he really meant to stress was a difference between volunteers and career. Most of the volunteers that I know, whether firefighters or EMTs are far more professional than some of the career folks that I know. Volunteers are professionals, at least those who are part of Fremont County Fire District.

Some of you may say, "What does Craig Haslam know about being a volunteer? He gets paid for what he

does?" For the last 10 years I have been paid as a deputy chief and now chief of this district. But I have been a @257;refighter for 33 years. I started off as a volunteer officially when I turned 18, but I grew up around the firehouse. I was a volunteer in Crowheart, and then with Riverton prior to my present position. I am a second generation volunteer firefighter in Fremont County. My father was instrumental in forming the volunteer fire department in Crowheart, and both of my brothers served as volunteers also.

I don't tell you this for praise because, like most volunteers, we don't do it for recognition but because we like to help others.

I would just like for you to know that I understand what it is like to be a volunteer. And while firefighting has changed significantly since I started in it, it still requires that one very important element -- time. I also served as a volunteer EMT for 21 years.

So what is the answer? I cannot create more time, so all that I can do is ask for each of you to take a look around and ask yourselves "If not me, then who will help out in the time of need. Either for me or my neighbors, do I have what it takes to be a firefighter and will I commit to what it takes to serve my community." Not everyone is cut out to be a firefighter?"

That is something that I know all too well, but how will you ever know unless you try? I have about 200 people who I am fortunate to call friends who volunteer for the district. Of these, 150 are active or probationary firefighters who serve the 12 communities in our district. For us to better serve those communities that we protect, it is our policy to automatically dispatch the two closest battalions (departments) during an emergency to provide the quickest most-efficient response for our taxpayers. We cover 6,000 square miles and work with the other districts and departments in Fremont County, which are Riverton Fire District, Dubois Fire District, Jeffrey City Fire District, and Lander City Fire.

The communities that we serve cannot afford career fire departments, so we continue to do what we can to retain our current volunteers and try to recruit new members. If only we could create more time or had ways of making time more accessible.

Craig Haslam

District chief

Fremont County Fire District

Riverton

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