Be ready: Fire crew volunteers needed
In a place where community service is part of daily life, no service has been more honored – or more necessary – than that of the volunteer firefighter.
Changing lifestyles in western Nevada County put great pressures on our ability to maintain sufficient forces of volunteer firefighters, and it’s an issue all of us need to watch closely.
Many of the fire districts in the county operate as a mix of professional firefighters and volunteers.
(Districts which are essentially all-volunteer – a remarkable achievement of community spirit – are found mostly in sparsely populated, far-flung locations such as Washington or San Juan Ridge.)
But even the fire departments that have some professional staff rely on volunteers to provide the manpower to deal with serious issues.
The changing face of Nevada County means, however, that fire departments must recruit heavily to maintain a full cadre of volunteers.
Many of the newcomers to Nevada County are past the prime age for firefighting. Others have jobs in Sacramento.
They’re not available for calls during the day, and they’re so beat at the end of a long commute that a big volunteer commitment is out of the question.
And other would-be volunteers are daunted by the growing amount of training – more than 200 hours at last count – required by state and federal regulations.
The changes aren’t hard to find. The 49er Fire District north and east of Nevada City had 40 volunteers and a waiting list in the 1970s; today, it has 15 volunteers.
Consolidated Fire District has a full complement of volunteers – 40 – but many of them aren’t available because of work commitments.
The fire district that serves Peardale and Chicago needs to recruit almost constantly to keep its volunteer cadre full.
While volunteer fire departments likely will remain the rule in truly rural areas, it’s not hard to see the day when volunteer firefighters will be a vestige of the past in the most populated core of western Nevada County.
Like most of the changes we face, that will bring some good and some ill, but it’s one for which we need to prepare.
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