During the recent ice storm in January 2024, I personally witnessed an incredible occurrence. Over the course of a week during the ice storm, I was amazed when ten of our community fire responder volunteers dealt with three different structural fires within and beyond our valley. Volunteers also responded to several emergency medical calls during that time.

In addition to working in dangerous fireground conditions, they faced a treacherous ice storm, perilous roads, falling trees and limbs, freezing equipment, toxic smoke exposure, and more—giving a response and service to our community members in need, as well as providing Mutual Aid to SLCFR—responding with critical support when no other district was able to get to the incident.

When you think about it, this is an amazing sacrifice and gift that these dedicated volunteers selflessly provide to our community. Now 20 strong and counting, our volunteer firefighters are the keystone to the success of our developing rural fire protection district.

Currently responding to structural, wildland, vehicle, and other fires, our volunteers are also committed to responding to the need for CPR or medical support with a handoff to SLCFR. The volunteers respond with Mutual Aid as part of this critical system of interagency support, to regional fire districts, emergency medical support, or government agency emergency management when requested. Several of our volunteers are in the process of training for EMR or EMT certification to improve medical response services within our community.

What motivates and drives these generous individuals to do this? For most, the reason is personal and motivated out of generosity and goodwill toward a community that fortunately can call them neighbors. Here are a few reasons that motivate our firefighters:

“My daughter and her family lost everything in the Holiday fire. Having witnessed the trauma and devastation caused by catastrophic events, I don’t want anyone else to experience it. I want my community to understand that we are not helpless and that we now possess the ability to respond in emergencies—a community that cares about its neighbors. I became a volunteer firefighter to safeguard where I live and what I love.”

“In 2018, I witnessed a fire near the Dorena School. Arriving at the scene, I found only one ODF firefighter present, and it was overwhelming. The fire originated in a structure and quickly spread into the wildland-urban interface, destroying four homes and a barn. I felt helpless and unequipped to assist my neighbors. I can’t help but think that if we had a Fire District at that time, we could have stopped or prevented the fire from spreading and causing as much damage. Having lived all over the USA, I have never resided in a community without basic fire response services. This was my opportunity to serve my community and shape its future.”

“A fire can take everything from everyone; it clearly creates a need for everyone to fight back against it.”

“My elderly relatives face health and mobility challenges while living alone. It’s a fact that the risk of fire and other emergencies is significantly higher for them. I believe that a local fire and emergency district enhances their safety. I volunteered because of that.”

“I am doing this to give back to the community. I believe that a sustainable community should have a skill set that enables it to provide for itself and those who cannot do so independently. This is always important but especially crucial during times of disaster when we cannot rely on aid from others. We have been witnessing this time and again in recent years. I enjoy learning new things, working with my physical body, and building relationships. Therefore, training to become a firefighter is a great opportunity for me and, more importantly, for my community.

“Life safety is the foundation of our right to the pursuit of happiness. Fire and Emergency Medical Services provide people with the assurance that their lives and achievements matter to the society they reside in. It grants them the peace of knowing that if they or their families fall, there is someone there to catch them. There’s a freedom there that I feel compelled to support.”

Every day, 24/7, we have four dedicated volunteer firefighters on duty, ready to respond. All volunteers carry pagers connected to 911 and Central Lane 9-1-1. Responders use Active Teams for scheduling shifts and Active Alert, a computer-assisted dispatch app, to complement Central Lane 9-1-1 dispatch.

People often ask how our volunteers manage this selfless commitment amidst their daily life, family, and work-related obligations. Recognizing these challenges, our volunteers have met frequently to discuss ways to make volunteering feasible for everyone, and these efforts are continually evolving. The key factor in its success is the unwavering commitment of our volunteers. Acknowledging this, we work collaboratively to find solutions that make it as convenient as possible for our dedicated team.

Examples of our efforts include divided shifts that offer flexibility, corresponding with individual work schedules to seamlessly integrate volunteering. This approach accommodates many volunteers like the ones that work at Dorena School, and even helps one teacher to assist in emergencies by being available to watch other volunteer’s children when an emergency occurs.   We’ve split the day shift into two parts, allowing for daytime flexibility for errands and the normal responsibilities of life.

Cross-coverage is encouraged, supported by a group chat board for volunteers needing coverage due to illness or unexpected circumstances. Actively recruiting new members to share all the duties and responsibilities, we provide extensive mentorship, immediately involving recruits in discussions and training.

Working collaboratively and under the mentorship of SLCFR, ODF, and other agencies, we’ve developed supportive response guidelines, leveraging individual strengths and addressing weaknesses. Our group goal is to foster confidence, trust, and reliability among our teammates, emphasizing safety and success through established protocols and procedures.

RRFR is committed to supporting our volunteers by providing the best, safest, and user-friendly equipment, along with all personal protective gear and necessary supplies. We offer free training programs and certifications to our volunteers.

Regular practice drills and debrief meetings allow us to address issues collectively, giving every member a voice in the discussions. We are dedicated to continuous improvement.

Building a fire district and emergency service for our community involves numerous moving parts. At its core, critical to the success of Fire and EMR services and the protection of our community, are our committed volunteer responders.

Our community is exceptionally fortunate to have individuals who generously give back, embodying the spirit of neighbors helping neighbors. This is a cause worthy of honor and support.

Thank you to all of our firefighter volunteer responders!!

Walt Bernard
The Row River Fire Response Board