Mar 1, 2012 - Emily Etheredge, Staff WriterThere's a new chief in town. The Riverton Volunteer Fire Department recently elected Ralph Estell as its new leader.
When he is not working for the National Weather Service in Riverton, he is learning the various duties associated with being the fire chief. Estell has been with the Riverton Volunteer Fire Department for 14 years.
In 1982, he started firefighting training with the U.S. Navy. He spent four years on active duty and 25 years in the active reserves doing weather and oceanography. He joined the National Weather Service in 1990 in San Francisco and went on to Ely, Nev., and Salt Lake City before coming to Riverton in 1997.
He joined the RVFD in February 1998. He became the training lieutenant in 2000, the training captain in 2002, a fire captain in 2006, the fire marshal in 2008, assistant chief in 2010 and now fire chief in 2012. He was awarded the Department's Citation of Merit in 2000 and was named the Wyoming Firefighter of the Year in 2009.
Estell has found that his new position has many duties that keep him involved.
"So far, the job has been pretty darn busy," Estell said. "I had to select my staff of officers and make up standing committees to oversee certain department programs.
"I also have the usual stuff that every firefighter does, including training and maintaining equipment, plus that of the chief of the department, like tracking supplies, equipment and bills, and all the paperwork that is involved in running a fire department."
Estell said one of the most enjoyable parts of his job is working as a team and having the opportunity to lead a others in training, while working on the trucks or playing a game of basketball.
According to Estell, one of the least enjoyable parts of the job is working a scene where a child has died.
"That is the saddest part of being a firefighter, and luckily it doesn't happen as much as in a larger city," Estell said.
As for regular day-to-day duties, Estell says paperwork is something he doesn't necessarily take pleasure in.
"Through all my time with the Navy and Federal government, which are known organizations for creating vast amounts of paperwork and reports, I have learned that though I may never enjoy it, if I do it correctly the first time, there is less of a chance I will see it again," Estell said.
On average, Estell manages about 65 percent of the calls to the RVFD, which is slightly above average for a volunteer firefighter. All of the volunteers have other jobs and often spend time out of town, on vacations or other obligations so no one can respond to every alarm.
"I do about five to six weeks of Navy duty a year that is out of the state/country, which is why we like to have a large number of volunteers so there will be enough around town to answer the alarm," Estell said.
290 calls last year
The RVFD was formed in 1906 and includes 36 active members with three response stations and one training/drill field. The department has at its service three engine companies, one ladder truck, one heavy rescue company, four tanker companies and a swift water rescue unit. In 2011, the RVFD responded to 290 calls and served the Riverton Fire Protection District, which encompasses the City of Riverton and eight to 10 miles in most directions around the city and more than 125 square miles including most of the southeastern corner of the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Estell said the biggest challenges the Riverton district faces with fire are the larger buildings going up in town as well as the three story and taller structures.
"These particular structures offer the greatest chances for having large fuel loads, more stuff to burn, as well as large numbers of people to be in and around them," Estell said.
"They also bring greater challenges in trying to evacuate those inside as well as trying to get fire crews to the seat of the fire. These challenges can be reduced by having alarm and sprinkler systems in the structures, holding routine fire drills and identifying and marking fire exits."
Estell feels as if the wildfire threat of having overgrown grass, brush and weeds near any structure is problematic.
"Although the last two springs have been quite wet and vegetation has grown well during these times creating a large amount of readily available fuel, people clearing brush and weeds away from structures and keeping yards green and cut short, helps keep a safe zone around buildings and residencies," Estell said.
Estell looks forward to the opportunities he will have as RVFD Fire Chief and encourages anyone that is interested in learning more about the volunteer department to stop by at Station 4 at 404 S. Broadway Ave., Riverton.
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