Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wanted: 'Adrenaline junkies'

Valley fire departments seek new volunteers

Ketchum firefighter John Rathfon raises the aerial tower on a fire truck during training Friday, Dec. 7, in Ketchum. Photo by Roland Lane

Three valley fire departments are looking for people willing to run toward—not away from—fires.

The Ketchum Fire Department, Sun Valley Fire Department and Wood River Fire & Rescue (the valley’s south-county fire and ambulance provider) will hold a state-certified fire academy in February with the goal of inducting 27 new firefighters into the three departments.

Ketchum Fire Department Senior Lt. and fire training officer Tory Frank said instructors from all three departments, led by Wood River Fire & Rescue Lt. Mike Huntsman, will conduct the training.

“Between Ketchum and Wood River, we have several state-certified fire instructors,” Frank said. “We put on the academy through the state, but in conjunction with other local departments.”

Frank said the Ketchum Fire Department is looking for 10 new volunteers; Sun Valley is looking for two applicants to join the five who have applied; and Wood River Fire & Rescue Chief Bart Lassman said his department is looking for 10 volunteers.

Applicants should live in the fire district that they are applying for. Frank said the Ketchum Fire District runs from East Fork Road north to the Blaine County line, excluding the city limits of Sun Valley and the Smiley Creek Fire District north of Galena. 

Wood River Fire & Rescue applicants can live anywhere in the south county, though residents of Hailey and Bellevue may wish to apply to those fire departments instead.

Frank said that the first year of fire training and the academy are focused on firefighting, but most volunteers go on to get additional medical certification.

“Not everyone has to be an EMT [Emergency Medical Technician] on our department, but many of our firefighters are,” she said, adding that the Ketchum Fire Department’s ratio of calls is roughly 65 percent medical to 35 percent fire.

The Sun Valley Fire Department, Hailey Fire Department and Bellevue Fire Department do not provide ambulance services. Wood River Fire & Rescue and the Ketchum Fire Department provide ambulance services to the south and north county, respectively.

The academy will run for 150 hours from late February to early May, with classes every Wednesday night and during the day on eight Saturdays. 

Applicants must be at least 18 years old. Applications are due Jan. 11 and can be picked up at all Ketchum, Sun Valley and Wood River fire stations.

But joining the academy—and then the department—is not as easy as applying, Frank and Lassman said.

Frank said that to qualify for the Ketchum academy, applicants must go through an interview process and a physical agility test. The test focuses on simulated firefighting activities, such as dragging hoses and 175-pound rescue dummies. Lassman said all the physical agility test components are focused on basic tasks that applicants would need to perform as part of a firefighting squad.

“You’re pulling hoses, you’re dragging hoses, you’re pushing, pulling and using different types of tools that firefighters use,” he said. “On the fire ground or at the scene of an incident, there are all sorts of tasks that people are asked to do.”

Frank said applicants also climb ladders and operate with a blacked-out mask to simulate a smoky room.

“It’s to make sure people aren’t afraid of heights or claustrophobic,” she said.

Lassman said that in addition to the interview and agility test, Wood River Fire & Rescue conducts a background check and a few other tests.

“We do some baseline medical [testing] on them just to make sure their pulse and blood pressure are within normal limits,” Lassman said. “If they go through that and everything is fine, they can get into the academy.”

Frank said the most successful applicants and eventual firefighters usually know another firefighter, and therefore know how much time and dedication is required.

“Often we have a few members who like the idea of it, but once they realize the commitment, they realize they can’t,” she said. “[Successful candidates] tend to be adrenaline junkies who also really want to help people.”

 Kate Wutz:


BLM seeks summer recruits

The BLM Twin Falls District Fire and Aviation Program is already hiring temporary seasonal firefighters and support staff for next summer. The agency is accepting applications from those who are interested in rigorous outdoor work, have excellent character and work ethic, and want to earn a good wage. Applications for summer 2013 will be accepted through Jan. 29 for most jobs, and can be found at Applicants must be at least 18 years old, be a U.S. citizen and have a high school diploma or GED.

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