East Grand Fire District in need of volunteers
March 27, 2009
East Grand County Fire Protection District No. 4 is looking for a few good men and women.
The district is seeking volunteer firefighter candidates, as is often the case.
“We’re a transient area ” firefighters come and go,” said Todd Holzwarth, district chief, who described the search for volunteers as an “ongoing effort.”
He said having 40 volunteers “would be a number that I would be very happy with.” Right now, the district is down to 22, he said, and was at about 25 a year ago.
Minimum requirements for volunteers are that they be at least 18 years old, have a driver’s license if they plan to drive any district vehicles, pass a Colorado Bureau of Investigation background check, go through basic firefighter training and pass a firefighter physical, which entails more rigorous pulmonary testing than a basic physical.
The department pays for the training and the physical.
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George Szczerba, newly hired training coordinator for the district, noted that while basic firefighter training ” which includes training in hazardous materials, wildland firefighting, an introduction to extrication and basic hose and ladder work ” is the minimum requirement, the department is happy to provide more in-depth training to state and national certification levels.
Volunteer firefighters are also required to complete 40 hours of ongoing training per year and participate in a minimum of 18 calls, Holzwarth said.
“Things change constantly,” said Dennis Sole, district fire protection officer. Updates in protective gear and techniques, for instance, require ongoing training.
And, Holzwarth said, even things such as changes in automobile technologies like hybrid cars demand that firefighters stay abreast of hazards they might encounter at accident scenes.
“It’s also preparing them mentally to be a firefighter,” Szczerba said. “It’s not for everyone.”
“There’s a lot of things we do that aren’t combat,” Holzwarth noted, explaining that many firefighters work in support roles and never enter burning buildings.
The department recently has experienced substantial turnover, including key positions such as a captain and the training coordinator.
“It’s been frustrating and was frustrating to the board,” Holzwarth said. “We can’t make everyone happy.”
Chief since 1993, Holzwarth said he’s been through periods such as this before, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
He said two couples left unhappy, and perhaps the institutional atmosphere of the district didn’t cater to their needs as well as it might have.
“Retention is an issue,” he said. However, he added, “I cannot understand all the anger.”
He also said that, despite the turnover, the department remains effective, financially sound and has retained its top insurance ratings.
New recruits will work in a remodeled Fraser fire station. In addition to installation of a fire-sprinkler system throughout, the station is undergoing a $200,000 remodel with an additional $50,000 contingency.
The project on the 25-year-old station began last summer with replacement of the old windows with triple-pane units. Living suites for up to six firefighters in the residence program are being updated and reconfigured. (Firefighters who live at the station must fulfill additional requirements to qualify for the free housing.)
Among the projects the district hopes to complete by June are remodeling of the kitchen/commons area, updated handicap access, installation of a larger public bathroom, and expansion of the weight room/gym area, Holzwarth said.
The Tabernash station is being eyed for updates as well.
“In the next couple of years, we hope to do a complete remodel of that,” said Holzwarth.
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