South Routt Fire Protection District seeks volunteer responders

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To sign up as a South Routt Fire Protection District volunteer, visit http://oakcreekfire.org/, click on "Employment" and download the district application.

For more information, call the fire protection district at 970-736-8104.

— When the page for help goes out across the South Routt Fire Protection District, about 16 volunteers are ready to answer the call as firefighters, paramedics or both. Although the team is well prepared, Chief Chuck Wisecup said, he would like to have closer to 30 volunteers ready to respond across the district's 260 square miles.

To bolster the numbers, Wisecup and the rest of the crew are preparing for a recruitment drive, with a firefighting academy to train new members scheduled for later this winter or early in spring 2010.

Wisecup said it's important to have a healthy list of volunteers because not every volunteer can respond to every call.

"The national average is you get one volunteer to respond for every three on the roster," he said.

Last year, the department had 226 calls for service, but Wisecup said that year was exceptional. He expects the department to have 175 to 180 calls this year, figures comparable to numbers from about three years ago. He said the economy might be to blame, as there were fewer calls from vacationers in state parks this year. The department typically runs about 20 calls per month, he said, with a record number of 32 in January.

The department covers Oak Creek, Stagecoach and the surrounding area from three fire stations. Two are based in Oak Creek, and one is in Stagecoach.

Stagecoach resident Jenny Switzky said she started volunteering in 2007, working through firefighting and emergency medical technician training.

"I wanted to help out my community, and I've always been interested in being a firefighter," she said.

The fire protection district paid for Switzky to go through training to earn her firefighter 1 and EMT basic certifications, she said.

Switzky said that most of the calls for service are medical calls.

"There are enough (volunteers) for the call volume that we have, but if we have increased call volume we'll need more volunteers," she said.

Wisecup said there is also a paid staff of three people, and the emergency responders who agree to be on call on the weekends are paid a small amount for their time - about $60 to cover an eight-hour shift. Volunteers who have worked on the force for 10 years or more also may be paid a stipend of $35 per call.

Wisecup said the typical volunteer will work for three to five years before retiring from the force, and it's difficult to retain volunteers for longer because of the time commitment it requires.

"What we see is you get a young guy who joins up fresh out of school and he's real gung-ho, and after a while he gets a girlfriend and the attendance drops off a little bit, and then he gets married and the attendance drops off a little bit more, and he has a baby and it drops off a little bit more and he can't make attendance requirements," he said.

Volunteers are required to go to training and meetings each month to retain certification and to stay on the force.

The fire protection district will continue advertising for volunteers in the coming month with fliers they have posted around Oak Creek, and a letter in the town's newsletter that is sent out with the gas bills.

-To reach Zach Fridell, call 871-4208 or e-mail zfridell@steamboatpilot.com

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