It is nice to have them there when you need them and time is of the essence, but Wally Jester the fire chief with the Lewis and Clark County Volunteer Fire Department is concerned that even though what they do is important, the numbers of people he can call on are limited in an emergency.
“Problems we have and we struggle with is volunteers,” Jester said. “It’s a constant thing. In the entire South Hills, I have two of my fellas that lived up there retire from the department. I have nobody u there. I really could use some especially in the South Hills to be responding, because most of my members that belong in my department, I think I got 7 or 8 now all live in town or out in the valley, in West Valley’s jurisdiction.”
The total amount of area these firefighters cover is vast.
“The North Hills, when you look out north out there and you see the timberline in the north end of the valley that’s pretty much mine to the mouth of Wolf Creek,” Jester said.
That is a total amount of 1,141 square miles and it takes time to get new people ready for going out on calls.
“Every year we start rookies usually in the middle of summer to late fall and try to have them trained up by Jan. 1,” Jester said. “We usually start from 12 to 15 of them, and at the end of that we’re lucky if two of them stick.
“Quite simply it’s a huge time commitment. We meet every Tuesday, two fire trainings a month, one is medical training.”
Even though there is no pay involved, Jester is up front with all those seeking to join the team that there is fulfillment going beyond measure.
“One of the things I tell them is you don’t get paid to do this job, but then on the flip side of that, you do. Think about it: When you get the training and you get the call, let’s just say it’s a motor vehicle accident. You get in there and you use the extrication tools and you get that car cut apart, you get the people out, you get them into an ambulance. You get them to upper medical care and you save some people’s lives.
“You can go home that night, you can lay in bed and think about that and go, Wow! That was pretty cool what we did today,” Jester said.
About 80 percent of calls to the department are medical calls including a high volume of car accidents.