BONADELLE RANCHOS – With another fire season rapidly approaching, Madera County Fire Department is struggling county-wide to shore up its dwindling numbers of volunteer/Paid Call Firefighters (PCFs).
In an effort to bolster the PCF ranks, a recruitment event and open house was held Saturday at Madera County Fire Company 19 in Bonadelle Ranchos.
According to Co. 19 PCF Captain Peter Flores, the event was attended by approximately 300 residents and supporters.
On hand were Company 19 firefighters, hosting attendees to station and equipment tours, BBQ hot dogs, a confined space smoke training simulator, and recruitment information and applications.
Also on hand were personnel from Madera County Sheriff Citizens on Patrol volunteer program, Sheriff Explorers, and Madera County Fire Explorers from Company 9.
Although Company 19 is staffed with over 15 personnel, they currently have only two commercial licensed water tender operators to respond with the 4,000 gallon apparatus.
Monday through Friday, during daytime hours, no PCF staffing is available for water tenders when the two operators — Captain Flores and Lieutenant Bob Hill — are working their regular full-time jobs. Madera County Fire Department relies on PCF staffing of water tenders, county-wide, to deliver a water supply to fires in rural areas where no hydrants are available.
To improve water tender response, Company 19 has been fundraising for the purchase of a combination fire engine/tender. Lieutenant Hill said the proposed engine/tender would have an automatic transmission and an approximately 1,800 gallon water tank.
“We would have another eight PCFS who could operate an engine/tender,” said Hill, as the engine/tender does not require a commercial operator’s license.
Representing full-time Madera County Fire Department staff was Cal Fire Battalion Chief Matt Watson. Watson serves as the Madera County Fire Department administrative battalion chief, and is currently tasked with updating the County’s comprehensive fire plan to manage current and future fire protection needs.
Madera County PCF shortages have already resulted in the closure of Dairyland station on the valley floor, and Coarsegold station in the mountain area. Critical PCF shortages threaten the continued operation of Bass Lake and Cedar Valley Fire Companies, as well.
An informational meeting for Cedar Valley area residents is scheduled at Cedar Valley Fire Station 18 on Saturday, Apr. 2, at 4 p.m. to discuss the impact of the PCF shortage on the future operation of Company 18.
Captain Flores encourages Madera County residents who are interested in serving as PCFs at any of Madera County Fire’s thirteen active companies to contact the department at 855-VOL-FIRE, or via the web at volunteerfirefighter.org.
Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles from Bill Ritchey, who, over the next several months, will be exploring the challenges, current conditions and potential solutions to the issues facing the Madera County Fire Department. Bill is a resident of Raymond. With a Masters of Science degree in Nurse Anesthesia, he has been an anesthesia provider for 21 years, and has worked extensively providing trauma and critical care anesthesia at the regional trauma center in Fresno. He is very involved in advocacy for local emergency services, and helped formulate policy for pre-hospital advanced life support by ambulance personnel and fire department first responders in Madera County. He also served as a first responder trainer for Madera City and County Fire Departments.