NORTH FORK – With the shortage of volunteer firefighters across the country, it was encouraging to see some 35 new recruits participate in a training day at the North Fork Mill Site on Apr. 13.
The day’s trainees included students from Glacier High who completed the EMT training earlier this year, young people from the Explorer program and even a firefighter from the Sierra Hot Shots.
As part of their Basic Skills Training, the apprentice firefighters participated in a State Fire Marshall Certified Extrication Class, learning to stabilize crashed vehicles and use the Jaws of Life to free trapped victims.
Paid Call Firefighters (PCF) as they are known, are the men and women who drop everything when the call comes in for wrecks, fires, medical aids and many other types of assistance. However, they only get paid when something is actually on fire, so about two-thirds of the calls they respond to are rewarded only by fulfilling their sense of duty to the communities they serve.
When you dial 911, chances are, the first on scene to assist you will include PCFs. Although call volume has increased across the U.S., the number of volunteers has declined.
With growing populations, especially in cash-strapped rural counties such as Madera County, these volunteers play a crucial role in bolstering the ranks of career firefighters (Cal Fire), and keeping response times at acceptable levels.
Volunteer emergency responders make up 73% of the fire service throughout the U.S., according to http://volunteerfirefighter.org.
“Most departments in rural America are fully supported by volunteers or are a blend of volunteers and career firefighters, known as a combination department. Even as a volunteer service, departments continue to evolve and adhere to the high level of professionalism that community members expect.
“Although many people don’t even realize they are supported by a volunteer department, it is more than likely that it’s a volunteer responding to an emergency, day or night, rain or shine.”
On this day of training in North Fork, the soon-to-be PCFs spent eight hours on instruction in the use of extrication equipment and participated in the hands-on dismantling of vehicles. These skills will allow them to rescue accident victims trapped inside their cars, and safely extract them without causing further injury.
Keith Horton, owner of All Right Recycling at the North Fork Mill Site, donated four vehicles for the trainees to smash and chop and cut up as they honed their skills.
Since completing this training, the PCFs have put in about 115 hours as part of the basic training, and can now receiver their pagers and gear and start responding in their communities. They have 18 months to complete the 180 hours needed to be fully certified.
Cal Fire Battalion Chief Mike Surber says the process for becoming a PCF is being redesigned to accommodate anyone with the desire to serve.
“We don’t want to inhibit anyone from becoming a Madera County firefighter,” says Surber. “We want the process to work for them, so the PCF ranks will grow.”
Surber says that as of the April training date, there were about 160 PCFs in Madera County and the goal is to get to about 200.
If you think you have what it takes to become a member of the Madera County Fire Department, and want to serve your community as a PCF, contact the Madera County Fire Department at 559-675-7799.