Volunteer Fire Departments Struggle to Provide Proper Equipment and Training to Their Crews

Miranda, Myers Flat, and Fruitland Ridge fire fighters practice extrication techniques. (Photos provided by Fruitland Ridge Fire Dept.)

Speaking about his local volunteer fire department, Jim Hensley, owner of 2 Dye 4 Designs in Myers Flat and a resident of the nearby Fruitland Ridge area explained, “These guys are basically unpaid professionals.” An accident on Elk Creek Road just last week had the volunteers providing medical aid and extrication to a victim. They also provided traffic control and other assistance to the CHP and ambulance staff. This kind of work is in addition to their fire fighting duties.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, nearly 70% of the nation’s firefighting force are volunteers.   These volunteers spring out of bed at all hours to respond to emergencies in their communities and  often spend weekends training to be of help. On top of that, the crews frequently pay for their own training and equipment. Jimi Hensley, for instance, son of Jim Hensley, just spent around $5400 traveling to the Bay Area and getting his EMT license. Granted, he could use his skills as a stepping stone to being hired by Calfire or a non-volunteer company but, in the end, those expensive skills benefit his community.

Last Saturday, Hensley’s son Jimi and other volunteer firemen spent hours practicing auto extrication on cars donated by a local business, Brown’s Towing. They want to be prepared to help their communities. But all the time they donate isn’t enough. Hydraulic extrication tools, sometimes known as the Jaws of Life, are expensive.  Most versions cost over $5000. Every volunteer department can’t afford to purchase this equipment.  For instance, neither the Myers Flat nor the Fruitland Ridge company has it so when an accident such as the one last week occurs, they must call in the neighboring Miranda firefighters.

This can waste valuable time, says Jimi Hensley. Time that could cost a patient his or her life. For best results on serious injuries, it is best to “get the patient to the hospital in under a one hour period,” says the younger Hensley. The ambulance in these rural communities, he says, are at least a 15-20 minute drive away. So it is at least 30 to 40 minute turnaround to get the patient to the hospital. “[The patients] need to be loaded up and gone in a matter of minutes” once the ambulance reaches them.” Any delay in getting the Jaws of Life to the car and patient, such as having to call for another department, can be serious and possibly even fatal.

Sgt Brett Fabbri of the CHP out of Arcata says that “For us, the volunteers are an invaluable tool. They are some of the first to respond.  We count on them for medical assistance.  We count on them for extractions…. They help us with traffic control… They’ll help us with pretty much anything we ask them.”

Fabbri explained that the volunteer fire departments provide not only their time and energy but also equipment like the Jaws of Life. “We don’t carry that kind of stuff… we count on their Jaws of Life…” He says the volunteers also provide other important equipment such as rappelling gear and medical supplies.

Constantly updating standards is part of the struggle to keep small volunteer fire departments equipped.  For instance, Jimi Hensley explains that not too long ago the standards for fire shelters were updated.  To replace them costs over $400.  Every fire fighter on a wildland fire is required to have one. “Understandably so,” says Hensley. “Fire shelters save lives.” However, replacing them is a hardship for small volunteer fire departments. Many of the local VFD’s have not managed to purchase the new items for all their crews. This, Jimi Hensley explained, means that they could be turned away from working at wildland fires even in their own neighborhoods.  This could put structures near the fire at risk.

Volunteer fire fighters hold fundraisers throughout the year to raise money for the needed equipment. They do this in addition to their training, their firefighting and their rescue work.

“I do this more for the pride in the community and the ability to help people who need it,” says Jimi Hensley. “It is more of a passion… You do it because you want to do it not because you have to do it.”

Fruitland Ridge VFD is holding a bake sale on Saturday, March 30th from 11 to 5 in front of the Myers Flat Post Office. Or donations can be sent to P.O. Box 87 Myers Flat, CA 95554

See below for a letter from Jimi Hensley to the community.



To The Editor,

I want to thank all those who have donated their annual dues to The Fruitland Volunteer Fire Company (FVFC). Especially, those generous contributions above and beyond the requested annual fee.

Annual fees are $40 per habitable residence and $25 per uninhabited parcel.

Since the measure to add the fee to property tax failed to pass in last November’s election, the FVFC must rely on support from the community. The money is necessary to pay for fuel, equipment repairs, general maintenance, medical supplies, emergency and rescue gear, etc.

Those of you that donate share in bringing about a successful year of fire fighting, emergency response and rescue to our community.

To assist in the effort to raise money, we are sponsoring a bake sale on Saturday, March 30, 2013 from 11AM to 5 PM in front of the Myers Flat Post Office. Please come enjoy homemade baked goods while supporting our community.

To donate annual dues and contributions, please pay at 2 Dye 4 Designs next to the Myers Flat Post Office or mail to P.O. Box 87 Myers Flat, CA 95554.

Jimi Hensley
Fruitland Volunteer Fire Company



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