Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
While the Olive Hill City Council recently voted to add the description of firefighter to paid city positions, allowing the fire department to employ part time staff three days a week, new fire chief Jeremy Rodgers says the department still needs more volunteers to fill the needs of the city and surrounding communities the department serves.
Speaking to the Times after returning from a fire on Aden Road Monday morning, Rodgers explained that the department had three different fire departments respond to that call, with 14 firefighters from the Olive Hill, Grayson, and Grahn fire departments working together to battle the fire. That, he said, was a good response. Normally the numbers are much lower.
“The benefit of today is a lot were off because of the holiday,” he said. “Normally it’s half that.”
The department has 35 volunteers on their roster, he said. “But if we get 6 to 8 at any given time, we’re lucky. That’s a big number.”
While the three paid staff, who have been serving three days a week since the start of the month, have been a big help for the department, Rodgers said the department needs more volunteers. Even if they can eventually increase the number of days to five, which is one of the new chief’s goals, they still couldn’t meet all the demands on the department without the help of volunteers.
As an example, he noted, the department had responded to 15 calls in the three days since Christmas Eve.
“Most of those were wrecks,” he said. But, he explained, they get calls for all kinds of situations. Everything from the proverbial kitten up a tree to helping medical staff get to work in white-out snow conditions.
“We’ve even gotten calls to remove snakes from houses,” he said. “It sounds cliché, but when people don’t know who to call, they call the fire department.”
There is also the cost involved for the city to bring on paid firefighters, something most eastern Kentucky communities simply can’t afford to do.
While Rodgers praised the mayor and city council for their efforts to bring paid firefighters on, the costs for the department’s equipment, not to mention kits for firefighters, are exceedingly expensive even without the additional cost of payroll. Just the cost of a coat and pants alone is in excess of $2,600. A full kit, with coat, pants, boots, gloves, helmet and protective hood can run upward of $3,400 – per firefighter. That doesn’t include the costs for trucks, air tanks and breathing equipment, or extraction equipment for removing people from wrecked vehicles.
New extraction equipment can cost $30,000 or more. The costs for trucks can be from several hundred thousand to a million dollars or more if new. While the department tries to find deals on used trucks and equipment, it’s expensive to run a fire department.
In order to meet all the department’s needs, they have to have volunteers.
While you might think the department needs young, strong volunteers – and they do – Rodgers emphasized that the department is open to volunteers “at any age.” Anyone, he said, can help with tasks from handing out water to assisting with traffic control. Or, getting snakes out of homes.
To be a state certified firefighter, he said, requires 150 hours of training.
“But we’re not a career department,” he explained. While paid, career firefighters might have to go through intensive training and meet those hours in a relatively short amount of time, with the volunteer departments those hours might be spread out over two years.
“To get started, you need about 20 hours of core classes,” he said, adding that a lot of what the volunteers end up learning is through “on the job training.”
Even if they don’t have those 20 hours of core classes in, he said, “they can start helping on day one.”
Those who are interested in volunteering can come out to any of the regular firefighter meetings, which take place at the Olive Hill station house at 6:30 on Thursday evenings.
“Just come in, sit in, and if you’re interested fill out an application,” he said. “If someone doesn’t know for sure, and wants to see if they’re interested, come to a meeting.”
Volunteers are not required to be residents of the city, and in fact most of them live outside of city limits but in the area served by the department.
If you decide you do want to volunteer, you can come in and help at any time that’s convenient as well.
“There’s always something to do,” he said, from wiping down equipment to washing fire trucks.
They also do a nice breakfast on Saturdays.
Those interested in volunteering can also call Rodgers at (606) 255-0004 or assistant chief John Humphries at (606) 315-6069 for more information.
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