2012-07-19 / News

Fire, EMS looks for volunteers

Although not short-staffed, better to be safe than sorry
BY KEN SHANE

The Jamestown Fire Department and EMS Division are seeking volunteers to help serve the community. According to Ken Gladding, who works with the town’s EMS volunteers, there is no shortage of volunteers, but it is always important to have as many people as possible at the ready.

“We’re not short-staffed, but we’re always recruiting and trying to stay ahead of the game,” Gladding said. “We’re in good shape right now.”

The volunteer opportunity is open to anyone who lives or works in Jamestown, and is at least 15 years of age. While 15-year-olds are welcome, they come in as trainees, and become full-time members of the team at the age of 18. Volunteers are asked to attend at least 20 training sessions over the course of a year.

The training takes place every Thursday night. It includes both classroom and practical learning. Volunteers are asked to train for one year. For the first three months they are strictly observers, after which they are allowed to go out on supervised calls. Since the work can present certain hazards, all participants are fully insured.

“We are loaded with insurance,” Gladding said. “Worker’s comp, liability and death policies are all in place. We have quite a slew of insurance, that’s for sure.”

Gladding, who has been part of the volunteer effort for 25 years and pointed out some of the benefi ts of volunteering. “It’s good general training, A lot of people will go through the department and wind up getting jobs out of it. It’s a great way to help out the community.”

Volunteering not only has a positive impact on the community from a service perspective, it has a profound impact on the town’s budget as well. According to Town Administrator Bruce Keiser, Jamestown spends roughly $100 per resident on fire and EMS. Since Jamestown is a small community and lacks the economies of scale, that number is on the upper end of that cost curve for a volunteer force. However, the typical percapita cost for communities with a paid force for the same functions is in the range of $200 to $300.

“Our volunteers certainly save the town a significant sum of money that we would be burdened by otherwise if we had full-time paid EMS and fire services,” Keiser said. Jamestown pays almost $600,000 per year gross for fire and EMS services. “We receive some offsets from insurance reimbursements and fire-alarm inspections,” Keiser said. “If we did not have our volunteers, I think it is safe to say that it would cost us three times that amount. Our volunteers are saving us well over a $1 million a year. Part of the fire budget is for insurance for volunteers.”

According to Keiser, there are two full-time paid positions in the Fire Department – one for the chief and the other for the mechanic. There is also a part-time position for the EMS coordinator. Stipends are also paid for the fire marshall and fire-inspection services. The town is required to inspect all new dwellings – residential or commercial – to ensure compliance with the fire code.

“Volunteering represents a sig- nificant part of community identity that sets a pattern of character,” Keiser said. “If we had a town with a paid department, you wouldn’t have that extra intangible level of service based on the dedication that the volunteers display week in and week out. Thanks to their training, their response to service calls is very evident. Volunteers are not in it for the money, which makes a major difference in how the service is delivered and the quality of that service.”

Kyle Tiexiera joined the Fire Department when he was 15 years old. He is now almost 23 and is a lieutenant in the department. Tiexiera is one of the five people responsible for training the volunteers. The team is led by Deputy Chief Howie Tighe, and includes two trainers for fire and two for EMS.

“There is certain training that has to get done,” Tiexiera said. “Hose testing has to be done yearly. Self-contained breathing apparatus has to be recertified yearly. We do a written test and then we have practicals that we do.” The practical training often includes a live burning at the department’s bunker facility in a secured fort at Beavertail. Once a month there is an all-company drill that involves both fire and EMS.

According to Tiexiera, the training is often dependent on the season. For example, at this time of the year there are cliff-rescue drills, boat-rescue drills and diving emergencies. “We still have to maintain our basic skills,” Tiexera said. “Twice a week each company goes out and does their own drill. As everyone knows, firefighting is a dangerous thing, so everyone’s skills have to be up to our standards.”

Tiexiera reflected on his personal feelings about his commitment to community service. “It’s rewarding. It’s nice to know that you’re helping others. It’s nice to give back to the community.”

Capt. Gary Largess joined the Fire Department in 2004, the day after his 15th birthday. He was following in the footsteps of his father, who also served. Largess is part of the volunteer training team for the Fire Department. Largess explained that volunteers are on call and respond when the alarm is raised, while EMS volunteers are required to work shifts. That makes it harder to get EMS volunteers sometimes.

“We have to get it so that there are people who are willing to be on shifts and answer calls during the day,” Largess said. “Obviously it’s a little harder. People have jobs and no one wants to come out on weekend days. We need more people for the pool to select from.”

Largess recommends volunteering to anyone who is interested. “Volunteering in Jamestown is great because it’s a small community and a lot of people are interested in it. We’re neighbors helping neighbors around here. For most of the year there’s a really good chance that you’re going to know the people you’re going to help. It happens all the time. That’s what makes Jamestown the special place that it is.”

Anyone interested in volunteering for the Fire Department or EMS can speak with Largess on Thursdays prior to the start of the 7:30 p.m. training sessions at the firehouse, or by calling him at 423- 0062 and leaving a message.

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