First in a series of stories featuring the Fallon/Churchill Fire Department.
Ask what a fire department does, and the easy answer is “put out fires.” Ask what the Fallon/Churchill Fire Department does, and you get a long list of services provided to this community from its all-volunteer fire department.
The mission of the Fallon/Churchill Fire Department is to eliminate death and injuries from fire, protect from fire loss, provide necessary life support services, and preserve the quality of life for those it protects.
But what, exactly, does that entail?
Quite a bit beyond the formal mission statement, according to Fire Chief Jared Dooley, who heads up the ISO1-rated department, the highest possible rating earned by a fire department.
“We respond to structure fires, wildland fires, vehicle extractions, gas leaks, hazardous materials spills, swift water rescues, and water recovery among other services, all while assisting various agencies as requested,” he said. “We do all of this with one department, four stations, 44 volunteers and 25 pieces of rolling apparatus (trucks, engines, etc.) to cover the 5,000 square miles of Churchill County.”
To put that in perspective, Churchill County is larger by area than Jamaica or Hong Kong, and the U.S. states of Delaware and Rhode Island.
Dooley emphasizes that his department is comprised of all volunteers and has been for its 100+ years of existence. “Across that time, we have evolved into what this community and its citizens needed. For example, we ran the only ambulance service in the county for nearly 30 years,” he said.
Fallon/Churchill Fire Department also maintains a hazardous materials/decontamination team as well as a swift water rescue team.
The main fire station and garage are on North Carson Street with other stations on Corkill Lane and near Skip’s Market on the Reno Highway. Each location is staffed with people and equipment ready to roll when the call comes in, 24/7/365.
“We average 280-310 calls per year,” said Alex Haffner, Fire Department Supervisor Paid Personnel. “But this year, we’ve had more than 200 in the first six months.”
When a call comes in, the duty officer, a weekly rotating position among lead firefighters, is often the first to show up on-scene. The duty officer quickly establishes protocols for addressing the fire or emergency. In the case of a fire, that means:
- Evacuating people from the structure
- Turning off power and gas to the structure
- Locating the nearest hydrant and water source for the structure
- Locating ways in and out of the structure
- Issuing orders to departmental personnel as they arrive
At a minimum, the fire department responds to structure fires with a truck, an engine and a tender and most of the time additional personnel and equipment will arrive on scene.
Public education and outreach
The fire department also conducts a robust public outreach and education program by providing fire safety classes for all county school children, ages pre-K to third grade, including “stop, drop and roll” drills.
Fire Marshall Mitch Young is responsible for code enforcement, educational programming, investigations into the origin and cause of fires, inspections, station tours, helping residents with smoke alarms and weed abatement within the City of Fallon. He also works with the Churchill County Planning Department to address weeds outside the city limits.
Fire department personnel conduct all maintenance on their equipment except for changing tires and some ladder repairs. To do that maintenance, the department hired two paid mechanics and pays Haffner for serving as their supervisor. Haffner also responds to emergencies as a volunteer firefighter.
“We do all maintenance required on equipment. We also fabricate our own light duty fire trucks from stock vehicles,” said Haffner.
Once acquired, department personnel install lights, GPS, decals, satellite phones, hand-held radios, mobile radios, computers, AED machines, first aid kits and breathing apparatus in all vehicles.
The Fire Chief, Fire Marshal and Duty Officer are issued fire vehicles to facilitate a rapid response. These vehicles are equipped with the items mentioned above and turn-out gear. Each of the larger trucks, engines, tenders, pumpers, brush trucks and trailers are also equipped with everything needed for effective firefighting and life-sustaining responses.
Maintenance also means making sure the 575 hydrants within the City and the County are functioning correctly. This maintenance requires three visits per year per hydrant. The fire department annually tests and maintains 25,300-feet of fire hose and enough large diameter hose to reach from Walmart to Big R.
Photo: Mark Burton, fire department mechanic repairs a worn part on an engine.