Volunteer fire departments throughout the Owens Valley will be celebrating Fire Prevention Week Oct. 7-13 with a series of open houses.
Each department will be inviting residents into the fire house Tuesday or Wednesday to check out firefighters’ equipment, tour the station, meet the volunteer first responders and enjoy a barbecue.
Olancha Fire Chief Steve Davis said the open houses are popular with local youngsters, who enjoy getting to see the fire engines and equipment up close. “Our children are our future volunteers,” Davis said, stressing the importance of giving local youngsters an opportunity to meet the firefighters.
Local fire chiefs will also be available to answer any questions from residents interested in volunteering as a first responder.
Davis said the open houses are a way to get the community acquainted with volunteer firefighters and help generate interest joining the department.
“That’s just one of the many reasons we have the open houses,” Davis said. “A few years ago we were having a kind of crisis” when it came to recruiting firefighters.
Since receiving a federal grant, local departments have seen an increased interest in volunteering.
Utilizing a $1 million Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant awarded to Inyo County last year by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, local fire departments have been advertising for new volunteer firefighters and will be using Fire Prevention Week as an opportunity to open their doors to anyone who is interested in serving the community.
“We’re helping to get the word out about the need for volunteers,” said Aletia Powers a grant manager with the Redden Group, which is administering the grant on behalf of Inyo County’s fire departments, as well as the grants of 12 other departments in eight states. “Each department is planning on having a fun barbecue, will have apparatus on display, they may have a fire hose hooked up and some (Independence, Olancha and Lone Pine) will have flu shots available.”
Through the SAFER grant, the Redden Group has purchased a number of ads, in the local newspaper, on television, social networking sites such as Facebook and on the radio, in hopes of attracting local men and women to the volunteer departments, which are always in need of able-bodied volunteers to respond to car accidents, fires and other emergencies.
Powers said recruiting volunteer firefighters is a problem nationwide. “We work with departments across the country, but rural areas suffer the most,” she said. “The Department of Homeland Security recognizes that this is an issue because lots of these rural areas are really struggling.”
Without the grant, Powers said the local fire departments wouldn’t have the means to advertise for new volunteers the way they have been this past year.
The grant also allows local fire departments to offer volunteers benefits and a 401K if they participate in regular training and are active on calls.
Local fire departments have added 16 new members (and received inquiries from 30-40 residents) interested residents since the start of the grant, Powers said. “And this is a four-year grant that we’re just at the beginning of. We’re seeing some success.”
The Big Pine and Lone Pine fire departments will have their open house at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 9.
The Bishop and Independence fire departments will have their open houses at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 10 and the Olancha Fire Department will have its event from 6:30-8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 10.
The Southern Inyo Fire Department will hold its open house from 1-6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27 in conjunction with a community bazaar and other events.