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Stepping forward to protect the community

Training offers opportunity for volunteers to learn the basics
By: Martha Garcia, Colfax Record Editor
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The Placer Hills Fire Protection District is looking for a few good men and women who want to be at the forefront of helping others. Beginning next month, the fire district, which serves the communities of Meadow Vista, Applegate and Weimar and surrounding areas, will begin a volunteer training program. There’s also an opportunity for volunteers to make firefighting a career. Placer Hills Fire Chief Ian Gow said the district relies on full-time, part-time and volunteer firefighters to protect the lives and property of residents living with its 34-square-mile boundary. The district has fire stations in Meadow Vista and Weimar. “Our fire district was built upon rapid responses. We want to get to people’s homes with our medical team and fire team within 5 to 7 minutes,” Gow said. “That’s why we have our two stations staffed full time. That minimal staffing of four people on duty a day is not enough people to manage any kind of fire event. So we have to have a good, strong volunteer staff to back up the paid staff.” Gow said with a large contingent of part-time employees he is able to staff each fire station with a full-time and part-time employee. Many of the part-time employees were once part of the volunteer ranks. “Many stay as just volunteers, and then they respond to incidents when they can. And those who want to work part-time get a little extra training and can also work for the district,” he said. While part-time firefighters are paid, volunteers are not but they can receive additional training to become part-time firefighters. Volunteer firefighter Brett Axelbaum said he had no idea the need was so great when he saw a “volunteers wanted” sign outside of Station 86 in Weimar. “The ‘free training provided’ peeked my curiosity,” Axelbaum said. “It seemed like a very cool opportunity to expand my skill set and to also be a part of something that was bigger than me.” Axelbaum, 40, described the five-month course he took that included recruits from the Alta and Colfax fire district and began early in 2010. Axelbaum said training took place weekly in the evenings for three hours – in rain or shine – and at least one or two Saturdays a month for eight hours for hands-on skills training (again rain or shine). They received books, binders and access to online resources for testing. As they completed skills, they were signed off and would move on to the next portion of the class. “If you missed class, which many of us did, you were responsible for make-ups. Our respective departments were very understanding of our outside commitments and were more than willing to assist us in off-day training,” Axelbaum said. Instructors were from the Colfax and Alta fire districts and classes were held at the Colfax and Meadow Vista fire stations. “Our classes were a combination of study sessions and hands-on skills training. Class was somewhat structured with quizzes … On more than one occasion, class was interrupted when the training station was toned to respond to a 911 call,” Axelbaum said. The bulk of the training was hands-on, Axelbaum said, due to the emphasis to learn by “doing” and not necessarily reading from a manual. That meant the recruits were outside in the cold, the rain and, once or twice, he said, in the snow. “We did everything from throwing/climbing a 24-foot ladder in full gear with tools, to huffing 50-feet of hose, to using the Jaws of Life,” Axelbaum said. “I became CPR certified, and learned to identify hazardous materials and how to deploy a fire shelter in under 60 seconds while fighting a brush fire.” Axelbaum said the training covered a great deal of material in a short period of time in order to be ready for the upcoming fire season. It was a “learn-as-you-go” situation, he said, receiving the bulk of training at the station under direct and close supervision. Axelbaum, who works for Apple, also owns a DJ company, and is a single parent of a 15-year-old son, said keeping up with training has been hard. “I’ve fallen behind on more than one occasion, but was able to catch up … I have to give a shout out to Nick Paskey, who patiently trained me.” Axelbaum said balancing work and training has proven to be a challenge, but Chief Gow and the department are supportive of the situation. “I have used vacation time at work to maintain training requirements. In reverse, work has affected my ability to respond to calls. I was paged on more than one occasion to meet at the station but was unable as I was working and couldn’t leave on a moment’s notice.” The firefighting experience, so far, has been “without a doubt a positive one,” Axelbaum said. As a part-time firefighter, he finds training to be intense because he’s not at the station on a regular basis. “But seeing the community support for the department and, in turn, the department’s support of the community, makes it worth while,” he said. Appreciation shown by the community means a lot, too. “I had a random person in Weimar walk up to me just to shake my hand and say thanks ‘for doing what you guys do.’ To be a part of that, even on a limited basis, is a very cool thing,” Axelbaum said. BASIC VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTER REQUIREMENTS Be at least 18 years of age. Have a valid California state driver’s license Live or work within the Placer Hills Fire Protection District (exceptions made for those near boundary lines, if deemed in the best interest of the District) Be able to pass a physical agility test Pass a criminal background and motor vehicle check Interested? Call (530) 878-0405