The recent Camp Fire that devastated much of California, including the entire town of Paradise, has thrust firefighters and first responders into the spotlight, and the Kiowa Fire Protection District …
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The recent Camp Fire that devastated much of California, including the entire town of Paradise, has thrust firefighters and first responders into the spotlight, and the Kiowa Fire Protection District wants to make sure Elbert County is prepared in case of fires in the area.
Dustin Courter is a volunteer firefighter with the Kiowa Fire Protection District, which is a combination district, meaning there are some full-time firefighters on staff, but much of the department is made up of volunteers. According to Courter, many more volunteers are needed to help keep the 324 square miles within the district safe.
“As you see in the news, and with the Forest Ridge Fire last spring, wildland fires are continuously getting worse,” said Courter. “You get that perfect storm of high winds, dry fuels and low staffing, and we are trying to stay away from that perfect storm.”
“Firefighters, whether paid or volunteer, have responsibilities that go beyond battling flames or performing life-saving measures. Many of our calls are simple requests for services such as vehicle and home lockouts, smoke detectors needing battery changes or malfunctioning carbon monoxide detectors,” said Fire Chief Gerry Lamansky.
Currently the department has about 15 paramedics and firefighters, 10 of whom are volunteers. The district is an all-hazards fire department, which means they respond with paramedics who are capable of providing basic and advanced life support services, as well as hazmat services, structural fire mitigation, wildland fires and rescues including auto extrication. Volunteer and paid staff share the same job functions.
“In the last month the Kiowa Fire Protection District has been called upon to respond to very serious incidents,” said Lamansky. “In at least three of those incidents a helicopter was requested, which is a rare event, but was unavailable to respond due to weather conditions. This in turn causes the paramedics and EMTs to transport critical patients, performing life-saving measures for up to 60 minutes and driving emergent through heavy traffic, all in an effort to save a life.”
Courter has volunteered with Kiowa for one year, after spending 10 years as a volunteer with the Rattlesnake Fire Protection District.
“Whether you have 20 years’ experience or no experience, we invite you to come talk to us about volunteering,” said Courter. “Anyone who is willing and has an interest in a specific field, we’ll back them up and offer training. When I got into it I had no idea what I was doing, but it quickly became clear where I needed to be.”
The district provides two trainings each month, one in medical and one in fire, and beyond that they provide an in-house fire academy and hazmat training. Volunteers join for a variety of reasons, including free training and getting their foot in the door to start a career in firefighting. Volunteers don’t need to live in the area — the department welcomes people from all along the Front Range who are willing to make the time commitment.
“A lot of folks wanted to be a firefighter since they were kids,” said Courter. “Going to a department like Kiowa kind of gets your foot in the door. You can get certifications, training, some experience, and go on to make a career of it. Others live in the community and just want to give back.”
Volunteers who live in the district are required to complete 72 hours of training annually. Those who live outside of the district must commit to 36 hours per month, which can include up to 24-hour shifts at the firehouse, or any combination of hours that satisfy the 36-hour criteria.
Volunteers must be in good physical health and capable of performing physical functions of the job, must be 18 years of age or older, and must have a high school diploma or equivalent, a valid driver’s license and no felony convictions.
“This is a great way to start your life experience,” said Courter. “I’ve seen people get into it at 38 and change careers. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. The bottom line is we do it because it’s an honor and a privilege to make someone’s worst day a little better.”
“This year the Kiowa Fire Protection District will break an all-time high for call requests. Five years ago our call volume was 225 calls. This year we will hit 500 calls with over 25 structure fires,” said Lamansky. “All of our local fire departments deserve your support. If you’re in an area served by volunteers, consider becoming involved if you’re able, or support them any way you can. They give a great deal to us and expect little in return.”
Anyone interested in volunteering can call the firehouse at 303-621-2233, visit kiowafire.org, or stop by the department at 403 County Road 45 in Kiowa.
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