Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Volunteer firefighters answer the call

Applicants sought for countywide academy planned for fall

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum firefighters work at the scene of a structure fire. Photo by Mountain Express

Having a fifth-grader and a fourth-grader at home can mean an erratic schedule for Ketchum resident Don Nurge. Being a volunteer firefighter means his days are even more unpredictable—but very rewarding.

Nurge, a senior engineer/EMT with the Ketchum Fire Department, has been a volunteer firefighter for nearly seven years. He balances co-parenting two kids with his firefighting duties, and will become a school board trustee in July.

"It's really nice to help people," he said. "They're very appreciative."

Nurge is one of the department's 37 volunteer firefighters. Every fire department in the county relies on volunteers, and the push is on to sign up more.

Volunteer firefighters are being recruited in anticipation of a countywide academy taking place this fall. Though some departments conduct in-house classes, smaller departments don't have training staff to lead the sessions. The academy, beginning Aug. 25, will train volunteers for all area agencies.

"Our latest goal is to have the fire service representative of the community we serve," said Jeff Nevins, Wood River Fire & Rescue operations chief. "Anyone can apply, but not everyone will make the cut." He encouraged county residents to stop by and learn more about the job.

Volunteers are needed from West Magic to Smiley Creek to Carey.

"They all need help," said Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle. "Each department sponsors as many people as they can afford to put in the class."

The status of volunteer firefighters is sometimes misunderstood. Volunteers are paid for training and for calls. They volunteer to respond when the call for help comes in.

"None of us are doing it for the money," said Ketchum volunteer firefighter Rebecca Rusch, a professional mountain biker. "For me, I really enjoy the training and the experience, from swift-water rescue to backcountry rescue and medical calls. We have to be trained in all things. And I've made a whole new group of friends."

She also counts as a motivator the opportunity to make a contribution to the community, "instead of just taking from what this place has to offer."


Nurge said all volunteer firefighters have to find balance, especially when there's a family at home. But they all try to respond to as many calls as possible.

"It's kind of what you make of it," he said. "If you can make the call, you come in. Your fellow firefighters need you."

Ketchum will be looking for between six and 10 recruits, Elle said, depending on the budget.

"We look forward to getting a bunch of new faces into the emergency services," he said.

Up to 30 people countywide will be accepted into the academy. All will go through basic training together, which can help facilitate teamwork in future emergency situations.

"In a mutual-aid instance, we're able to do the job pretty seamlessly," said Ketchum's Tory Canfield, senior lieutenant/paramedic.

Canfield also is in charge of fire training for the department, and will teach at the fall academy.

People who are interested in joining are encouraged to talk to firefighters to see what the job entails. While no experience is necessary, Canfield said, applicants need to be healthy and in good physical condition as well as have a desire to help people.

"Not every call is life or death," she said. "But on every call you have the opportunity to make a difference in someone's life."

Before entering the academy, candidates may be required to pass a few tests to ensure that they meet minimum qualifications.

"It's not necessarily easy," Nurge said. "You've got to come in with a good attitude and work hard."

Recruits have to live in the jurisdiction that will be sponsoring them for the academy.

"It's a great opportunity to give back to the community you live in," Elle said, adding that the job is a great fit for adrenaline junkies. "When the pager goes off, that's it. It's huge."

Rebecca Meany:

Ketchum Fire Department

All agencies recruiting paid volunteers

Interested applicants are asked to contact the agency that has jurisdiction where they live:

Wood River Fire & Rescue: 788-5577

Hailey Fire & Rescue Department: 788-3147

Bellevue Fire Department: 788-9277

Sun Valley Fire Department: 622-8234

Carey Rural Fire Protection District: 720-2076.

The countywide volunteer firefighter academy will be held on Thursday evenings, Aug. 25 to Nov. 17, as well as four Saturday sessions. The deadline to apply is July 20. For more information, stop in at your local fire department, or call instructor Tory Canfield at 726-7805.

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