For towns with a small population there are no paid firefighters. A handful of concerned citizens must take the responsibility of handling fire emergencies by volunteering a sizeable portion of their time.
The Alpine/Highland Fire Station is staffed solely by 33 volunteers who devote their spare time to firefighting service.
Virtually anyone can volunteer to be a firefighter, provided they are physically fit.
Volunteer firefighters must undergo intensive training by attending weekly classes. If a volunteer has no previous experience fighting fires it generally takes several months of training and the approval of the Fire Chief before they can combat fires.
During training the volunteers become familiar with firefighting equipment, learn how to assess the fire and learn how to distribute water.
After training, the volunteers are on call 24 hours a day and must carry pagers. Despite the fact that most of the volunteers have full-time careers, they still manage to be ready for duty at a moment’s notice. Depending on the pager call, volunteers know the severity of the situation and how many firefighters need to respond.
The average response time to a fire for Alpine/Highland is 6 to 10 seconds — a time that parallels the response time of larger cities with paid firefighters, said Pete Ciena, volunteer firefighter and general building contractor. The Alpine/Highland Fire Station also offers mutual aid to surrounding areas.
Although the volunteers are on call 24 hours a day, they are only paid for actual time spent firefighting.
“I’ve always been community-oriented,” Ciena said. “We’re not in it for the money.”
Ciena said sometimes work and volunteer service collide but usually volunteers’ employers are supportive during emergency situations.
Craig Carlisle is the Assistant Chief of the Highland/Alpine Fire Station. He works full time in sales and technical service for an oil company and has been a volunteer firefighter for 20 years.
“I really like fire-related work,” Carlisle said. “I like the service. I like to feel like I’m helping the community.”
“I must be crazy!” Carlisle said about the 12 to 15 hours he puts in volunteering. “My kids hate it and my wife puts up with it. She’s very supportive.”
Volunteer service at the fire station is a family affair. Carlisle’s wife Denise, serves the community as the Public Safety Officer.
Ciena has been volunteering for a year and a half at the fire station and has fought brush and structural fires. Fortunately, he has not been in a situation where a human life was endangered but he did save the life of a dog.
When the garage of a house caught on fire, smoke had filtered through the rest of the house and a dog hid under a bed. It would have died of smoke inhalation had Ciena not pulled the dog out. The dog showed it’s gratitude by biting the hand that saved it.
Robyn Dalzen/Daily Universe
BURNING BUSHES: Firefighters battle the blazes on Y Mountain Saturday. Many small communities rely on volunteer firefighters to combat flames. Paid or volunteer, firefighters have had their hands full during this year’s heavy fire season.