Second in a series of stories about the Fallon/Churchill Volunteer Fire Department.
The Fallon/Churchill Fire Department protects Churchill County in all manner of emergencies with a cadre of 44 firefighters, each of whom has volunteered time outside of their regular job and family commitments.
Firefighters successfully complete a rigorous recruitment process and training syllabus to get on the force, and then take additional training courses throughout the year to stay current on the latest firefighting techniques.
While the firefighters are an all-volunteer force, their number is capped at 50 because the City of Fallon and Churchill County pay for benefits and equipment. Recruitment for new volunteers is on-going and is a multi-step process, according to Fire Chief Jared Dooley.
“To apply to be a firefighter, one must live within three air miles of the city limits or a fire department substation, have lived here for two years and be 21 years old,” said Alex Haffner, Fire Department Supervisor Paid Personnel.
Those meeting the basic requirements, attend a four-hour introduction/orientation meeting where expectations as to the time and commitments are laid out. “Current firefighters are available to answer questions. Spouses or significant others are highly encouraged to attend because they must also buy into their loved one’s commitment,” said Dooley.
Written, physical and oral testing
The day after the orientation, recruits take a written test based on what they learned at the orientation. Next, they complete an obstacle course. Prospective firefighters drag firehoses through tight spaces wearing protective gear and work with small objects while wearing heavy gloves to demonstrate dexterity. After the obstacle course is completed an oral examination by five members of the department is performed in a typical job interview setting.
Each of these steps is a way for the fire department to interact with and evaluate potential volunteers, according to Dooley.
Following the oral exam, the department ranks each of the recruits and they are matched with as many positions as are available. Recruits then take a medical physical.
Recruits who survive this process are put into the rookie class for a year of probationary service.
A firefighter’s first year with the department involves completing a six-month training academy of 240 hours of book and online learning, another 216 hours of instruction in structural firefighting, participating in the department’s weekly training night and the occasional weekend training session, said Haffner.
Upon successful completion of this entire regimen, including a successful probationary year, the department holds a ceremony whereby recruits trade their black recruit helmets for the yellow helmet of a full-fledged volunteer firefighter and receive their badge.
Fighting fires takes qualified trained people and equipment. At the Fallon/Churchill Fire Department, equipment comes in a variety of types. Rolling apparatus includes the trucks, tenders, and engines most think of regarding firefighting efforts.
As fire apparatus ages, parts become increasingly difficult to repair or replace. The Fallon/Churchill Fire Department is very competent in repairing its equipment, but as with all things mechanical, there comes a time when it must be replaced.
“The department has entirely replumbed two large trucks and two large engines in stainless steel. Those same apparatus were also given an upgrade to LED lights all the way around. These upgrades have given the apparatus extended service life, but we are starting to see these trucks go out of service for extended periods of time due to lack of parts,” said Dooley.
On the older vehicles (those built in the 1990s), the time for repairs has passed and the department must look to replace these vital vehicles.
A sampling of the inventory of the local fire department includes:
- Engines (4) - Carries up to 10 firefighters, thousands of feet of hose, up to 2,500 gallons of water, 90 gallons of suppressant foam, pumps, a generator and all the tools and other equipment needed to fight structure and brush fires. An engine responds to every fire call. Two departmental engines are 13 years old, the other two are 25 years old.
- Fire trucks (2) - Apparatus comparable to an engine but outfitted with a 62-foot ladder and outriggers. Both are 25 years old.
- Tenders (3, with immediate access to many more) - Carries 3,000 gallons water. Able to transport large amounts of water anywhere in the county.
- Brush trucks (2) - A Ford F-450 4x4 with a work bed. Carries 300 gallons of water and a pump.
- AARF truck (1) - Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting vehicle. Carries 1,500 gallons of water, 300 gallons of foam.
- Decontamination Trailers (2) - Containing equipment needed to mitigate hazardous material leaks, spills, and fires. Contains showering bays used to decontaminate those who have been exposed to hazardous materials.
- Rapid Response Rig (1) - Ford F-350 4x4. Built to departmental specifications by Fallon/Churchill firefighters. 5-person cab with all the tools needed to extricate people from any situation.
- Dive Van (1) - 2013 Freightliner donated by the Volunteer Firefighters Association to the county. Used for dive and swift water rescue and recovery. Equipped with wetsuits and dive gear.
Your Fire Department By the Numbers:
- Current number of volunteers (including recruits): 44
- Average years of service: 12
- Paid staff: 4 (supervisor, fire marshal, 2 mechanics)
- Number of rolling apparatus (fire trucks, engines, etc.): 25
- Average age of rolling apparatus: 14+ years
- Average age of pumper trucks: 25 years
Photo: Supervisor of Paid Fire Personnel Alex Haffner with scuba equipment from the dive van.