By LANCE MASTERSON
Of the Keizertimes
It’s recruitment time for one of the most important components of the Keizer Fire District machine.
“The fire department relies a tremendous amount on its volunteer personnel,” said Keizer Fire Chief Jeff Cowan. “A city of this size, it’s usually common to have a one firefighter per thousand career (ratio). For example, Keizer, with its 35,000 population, that would mean 35 firefighters career staff. We have 24.”
The district’s 40 volunteers make up the difference in staffing.
“Volunteer personnel are vital to this organization because we rely on them at peak periods. We have staffing for 90 percent of everything we do. But when we have a structure fire, suddenly we need as many as 20 people on a moment’s notice. And that’s why volunteers work so well,” said Cowan.
The optimum number is for 16 men and women to enroll and complete the district’s year-long “recruitment academy” that begins this fall.
Classes are held Monday evenings and occasionally on Saturdays and Sundays. Five months into training volunteers are assigned shifts as well.
“The time commitment is relatively significant,” said Dale Slater, the district’s volunteer recruitment coordinator. “It’s something we try to warn these people about up front.”
Training is comprehensive.
“It’s all content based on fire protection so it’s going to be an introduction into fire basics. There’s going to be some building construction. There’s going to be some rescue techniques. You’re going to learn how to pull hose. Very basic stuff to get volunteers through the first year,” said Hector Blanco, the district’s training officer. “When they’re completed with their course, there’s testing and evaluations that take place. That’s done throughout, but at the very end they receive a Firefighter I certificate, and that allows volunteers to actually make entry into buildings under supervision of a more experienced firefighter.”
Slater added the average attrition rate for volunteers is 2 1/2 years.
“A good maximum is right around 16 people,” Slater said when asked how many recruits are needed each year. “It’s hard to manage a class without an appropriate amount of trainers … More than 16 and the class becomes hard to manage.”
This has been a difficult year for volunteers. Cowan noted the economy has caused many volunteers to step down.
“We understand the business of life,” said Cowan.
Slater encourages anyone with questions to drop by the district.
“We want to entice people into coming down and talking to us, taking a station tour. See what it is we do around here,” said Slater.
Volunteering is a gateway for recruits interested in making firefighting and/or emergency medical services a career
The residency requirement for volunteers have changed slightly since last year. Volunteers no longer have to reside within the district boundaries, but they do have to live close enough to respond to calls in a timely manner.
Call 503-390-9111 for more information on the district’s “Recruit Academy.”