Fire volunteers can be hard to find |

Fire volunteers can be hard to find

Robert HugginsChief Dan Kopp of the 49er Fire Protection District examines the remains of a house damaged by fire Monday morning.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

It took firefighters 20 minutes to reach a blaze that damaged a Cascade Shores house, destroyed the garage, and injured the occupants Monday.

Two engines and a water tender eased down Pasquale Road, a winding and icy stretch that brought endless morning traffic from the opposite direction.

All the while, a fire station next door to the burning house remained unused. The engine inside it never budged.

“It doesn’t do us any good. It’s basically a storage barn. There’s nobody out there to run the engine,” said 49er Fire Protection District Chief Dan Kopp.

That’s because the fire district has no volunteers to serve the Scotts Flat Road community, which used to have four people ready at a moment’s notice.

Kopp said the district isn’t alone: “Volunteerism across the board is just dropping in this area.”

Many people can’t commit the time. The pay is poor, often minimum wage, and some would-be volunteers become discouraged by the 200-plus hours of training required.

In the 1970s, the 49er district had 40 volunteers – and a waiting list. Now there are 15, none of whom live in Cascade Shores.

“It was a lot different back then,” Kopp said. “People had more time, the pace of life was slower, and more people were volunteering.”

The Ophir Hill Fire Protection District has 15 volunteers, but some work outside the county.

“If everybody showed up at one time, it’s usually enough, but daytime it’s pretty thin,” said Capt. Rob Rothenberger.

The Nevada County Consolidated Fire District has 40 volunteers, Chief Tim Fike said.

“No, I don’t need more. I need the ones that I have to be available,” he said. “At this point, we’re holding our own. I know there are other districts that don’t have that luxury.”

In his district, 90 percent of calls don’t require backup, and volunteers – the lifeblood of the districts that merged to form consolidated – might not feel needed.

“The volunteer used to have to go to every one of those calls. Now he doesn’t,” Fike said.

Numbers have held steady for the Peardale-Chicago Park and Rough and Ready districts.

Rough and Ready has 16, according to secretary/bookkeeper Carolyn Gannon. The district numbers were in the 30s soon after the devastating 49er Fire, but Gannon said the district has enough now.

Peardale-Chicago Park, with 15 volunteers, has a recruiting drive every fall. It also posts signs along Highway 174 and gets out the word in a newsletter.

“It’s neither hard nor easy,” said Peardale-Chicago Park Chief Jim Bierwagen. “It’s something we work on on a constant basis. It’s something where you can’t ever relax, and you have to stay after it.”

As for Monday’s Cascade Shores fire at 161164 Banner Quaker Hill Road, Kopp doesn’t know how much having nearby volunteers would have helped because gas fueled the flames and spread them quickly.

“(Volunteers) possibly could have reduced the damage a little bit,” he said.

The fire started as resident Clark Staves was restoring a 1976 Toyota Landcruiser. He was draining gas from the tank, which he had planned to repair, when a heater ignited the gas fumes, Kopp said.

Staves suffered second-degree burns to an arm and part of his neck, and another resident, Jennifer Larson, an asthmatic, had breathing problems from the smoke, Kopp said.

Both were treated at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and released.

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