Two West Plains departments need more volunteer firefighters
It’s easy to understand why most children are fascinated by fire trucks: they are big and loud and come with flashing lights and all kinds of cool gadgets, hoses and ladders. And there is something special about firefighters and how they save people from all kinds of perilous situations – and of course, put out fires.
Here’s an opportunity for those who never got a chance to live their firefighter dream: The Airway Heights Fire Department and Fire District 10 are looking for volunteers – applications are due Jan. 27.
“We really need volunteers who live here in Airway Heights,” said Mitch Metzger, Airway Heights fire chief. “Some of the volunteers we have come from Liberty Lake, Sprague and downtown. That’s great for pulling shifts at the station, but they can’t get to the scene of an incident as quickly as we’d like.”
There are 43 volunteer firefighters with Airway Heights Fire Department, but Metzger said he’d like to have 75.
“Part of the problem is that people don’t know we are here,” Metzger said. The station is part of City Hall and people sometimes confuse it with Fire District 10’s station, which is also in Airway Heights. “We rely on District 10 to help us out – that’s part of the reason why we are doing the volunteer training together.”
Fire District 10 Deputy Chief Robert Ladd said the two agencies aren’t competing for volunteers, but they are in the same boat: They need more local folks to sign up for duty.
“We have two stations in District 10. Right now, 65 volunteers cover the 85-square-mile district,” Ladd said. “Our goal is to have 120 volunteers.”
Applicants will start with a written test on Feb. 1, followed by a physical ability test and interviews with volunteer staff.
Ladd said that many look at volunteer firefighting as a way to try a professional firefighting career on for size.
“Some find that it’s not what they want to do, or they get discouraged that it’s hard to find a paying job later,” Ladd said. “In general, we have lots of interest, but it’s hard to get people signed up for the training.”
To meet national fire safety standards, Airway Heights should have 10 firefighters on scene within 10 minutes. District 10 needs an extra eight firefighters to show up within 10 minutes.
“That’s why volunteers who live here are so valuable,” Ladd said. “If they can get there quickly we can provide a better service.”
Jack Windley, 22, has volunteered with Airway Heights Fire Department for one year. He joked that it was the red fire truck that drew him to Airway Heights – District 10’s trucks are white and green.
“I didn’t know anything about firefighting but I had a co-worker who was a volunteer firefighter,” said Windley, who’s stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base. “And yes, everyone wants to be a firefighter at some point. I guess I just gave it a shot.”
He said what surprised him most is the frequent equipment checks.
“They were so focused on the equipment being 100 percent ready at all times, I liked that,” said Windley, who’s originally from Tennessee.
What does he like best about firefighter duty?
“That you can help people,” Windley said. “And the pride. Firefighters take pride in what they do, we make sure that everything is OK.”
Metzger was a volunteer firefighter for 27 years before he became chief.
“People always ask how you get up in the middle of the night and help someone,” said Metzger. “It’s not tough, even if you have a day job to go to a few hours later. To be able to help someone in your community is just very fulfilling.”