By Shayne Bair
Richmond’s fire chief believes stricter enforcement of training protocols over the past year has resulted in better preparedness among active members of his city’s volunteer fire department. But that same regimen may have shrunk the size of the force by more than 50 percent — and some department veterans are concerned that the low numbers have become a liability.
“We have 13 people on the roster now,” assistant chief Ben Lundgreen said. “Optimally, we would like to have anywhere between 20 and 25.”
Lundgreen, a 14-year veteran of the department, said the numbers are cause for concern.
“I am the only one here in the daytime to respond to medical calls,” Lundgreen said. “We like to have at least two people go in case something goes wrong.”
The department has had as many as 28 people in recent years, but Wood, who has been chief for more than a year now, said those numbers might not have counted for much.
“It was a free-for-all when I took over,” Wood said. “There was no discipline, and the volunteers weren’t meeting their requirements.”
In order to remain eligible for recertification, volunteers must attend at least 70 percent of the weekly meetings held at the station, in addition to participating in other training and drills. If they don’t, they will be removed from duty.
It takes considerable time to train new firefighters, Wood said.
“It can take over a year of training, three nights a week, to even be able to join the department,” Wood said. “Let alone the weekly training meetings that we have.”
All 13 members of the current department have 100 percent attendance at the training meetings — and Wood said those volunteers are better prepared than previous ones.
But former chief Lyle Bair said attendance isn’t everything when it comes to a small town department like Richmond’s.
“In an emergency situation, I need men on the scene,” Bair said. “They don’t all have to go in the house — they just need to be there.”
Bair said he always felt comfortable signing off on the people in his department, because he knew they were capable people, regardless of their attendance at the sessions.
Lundgreen has seen both types of management and agreed that attendance shouldn’t dictate a person’s eligibility.
“Sometimes, in the volunteer world, you get people who go to training and you get people that go on calls,” Lundgreen said. “You can’t always have both.”
Any Richmond citizen interested in joining the department can go to the weekly meeting held every Wednesday night at 7 p.m. in the Richmond Fire Station.
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