Without Volunteers, There’s No Fire Department

Joyce Coates
Enterprise Staff

The holiday season is a good time to remember and thank the nearly 150 volunteer firefighters who serve in Benton County’s fire protection districts without pay, and sometimes at great personal risk. 

The number of volunteers (actual or estimated) is: Cole Camp - 24, including two women; Deer Creek - 20, including women, two of whom are officers; Lakeview Heights – 22, including one officer among the three women; Lincoln – 35-40; Osage Valley – 18 men and women; and Warsaw – 24. 
Most recruitment is by word of mouth. Volunteers bring friends to meetings who often decide to make a commitment. 
Fire chiefs set eligibility requirements for volunteers in their districts. Minimum age in all FPDs is 18. Some chiefs add other specific requirements.  
Cole Camp’s volunteers must attend regularly-scheduled meetings and training sessions. Work nights are every first Monday of the month; business meeting every third Monday. Every volunteer learns to drive every vehicle and use every item of gear and equipment. The Junior Firefighter program is for teens under 18 who with written consent of parents or guardian, do “outside” support work only,but are never allowed “inside” to fight fires. 
Deer Creek’s volunteers range in age from 18 to 82. Training includes a 60-hour course in basic Emergency Medical Services (EMS). 
Volunteers at Lakeview Heights must remain drug and alcohol free in the workplace, be willing to devote time to training and to respond to an emergency at any hour. 
Lincoln FPD volunteers must pass a background check and be approved by the board of directors. They are eligible for worker’s compensation and insurance which pays benefits to a designated beneficiary in the event of death. Training meetings are held once monthly; volunteers must attend at least three per year  to remain eligible.
FPDs are political subdivisions with specific authorities granted by the state. They exist “to protect by any available means persons and property against the damages and injuries from fires and fire hazards, to render first aid to save lives, and to assist in the event of accidents or emergencies of any kind” (RSMo 321.010). Additionally, they may provide fire risk assessments, permits, fire alarms and safety guidance.
Benton County FPDs were established by voters petitions to the circuit clerk with a filing fee, followed by a public hearing and a judge’s order incorporating the district, subject to voter approval. Voting for the FPD meant also approving a property tax, and electing a board of directors to six-year terms. Board members must be at least 24 years old, residents of the FPD, have no criminal record, and complete training approved by the state fire marshal.  (RSMo 321.030 – 321.220)
Boards select or approve the selection of a fire chief. They manage their district’s budget that may include, besides property tax revenues, federal grants, matching-fund grants from the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDOC), donations, and money from local fundraisers. 
Although volunteers receive no personal compensation, boards allocate money to a firefighter checking account based on a set fee “per volunteer per call responded to” to be spent as agreed by volunteer consensus. 
Firefighter funds typically pay for office supplies, snacks, for equipment not paid for by the respective boards, and for annual holiday dinners for volunteers and families. Cole Camp FPD donates $250-$300 to the annual High School Lock Up event for graduating seniors because it ensures a safer celebration than they would have out on the roads, potentially getting into serious accidents. Lincoln FPD used some of its firefighter funds for a thermal image camera that captures hot spots often hidden in inner walls of a structure fire.
Because of the people involved, every fire protection district has a unique history. Cole Camp, Lincoln and Warsaw were originally city run departments who provided fire protection services to rural areas based on paid memberships.  Once incorporated, tax-based fire protection districts provide coverage to everyone in their districts with no additional charges. 
Lincoln FPD was first, incorporated in 1991. Its three-member board meets once a month. Michael Rambon became fire chief in January 2005. Rambon’s father had been fire chief, and young Michael spent many hours at the station when he was 10-12 years old. Rambon owns a farm and looks after his 84-year old mother.
Property tax revenue is approximately $100K. The FPD has stations in Ionia, Mack’s Camp, and Santiago. Each has a pumper truck, tanker, and a brush truck. Lincoln’s main station houses two pumpers, two tankers, three brush trucks, a vintage 1951 fire truck (usable if required), and a service truck that carries SBCA refill bottles, equipment for staging a helicopter landing zone – usually at the ballpark where there is a pad, and tools and extrication equipment.  Lincoln FPD is the only one with special equipment for granary engulfment extrications.  
Rambon asks law enforcement to accompany them to structure fires. Occasionally, when drugs are involved in house fires, occupants do not always want help.  Some even threaten firefighters against coming onto their property.
Deer Creek incorporated in 1993. A five-member board meets once a month. Floyd Blacksmith and Walt Allen got Willy jeeps from the Forestry Department in the 1970s and converted them into brush buggies. They had a two-bay garage. People from the city brought burlap sacks, shovels, buckets and racks to fight fires. They used CB radios, called neighbors on the phone, or went to houses and grabbed anything useful. 
Approximately $46K in property tax revenue supports four stations and the vehicles. Donations from Forbes and residents, and a $6K matching-fund grant from the MDOC paid for wildland firefighting equipment.  Vehicles on average are 25 years old. The newest, a 1996 GMC, is the primary medical response truck.  Two rescue units; four brush trucks for wild land fires; five pumpers and three tankers for a total of 11,300 gallons of water stay prepped for a first attack. Five years of applications have failed to get a grant to replace 17-year old turnaround gear that should not be used more than 10 years. The $1,700 cost for each is a problem. The FPD can get excess military property from MDOC in Lebanon: trucks, shovels, racks, clothing, tools, backpacks, etc. 
Warsaw incorporated in 1997. The five board members meet once monthly. Besides his responsibilities as Fire Chief, Rob Lane and his wife Patty own and operate Lane Heating and Air Conditioning.
Vehicles are from 52 years old to brand new, purchased as long ago as 1965 and as recent as 2017. There are six pumpers, six tankers, one service truck, one rescue true, and five brush trucks. Average time to respond to an emergency call is 10 minutes.
Lakeview Heights incorporated in 1998. Its five-member board meets one a month. 
Once a volunteer department in 1974, residents built a two-bay fire station to house equipment and provided coverage for payment of membership dues. They built a second fire station on Brushy Chapel Avenue in 1998, and a third fire station in 2002 at the B&W Hwy junction with funds donated by a former resident.
Fire Chief Jeremiah Crider, who also works at GW Country Mart, was selected by the volunteer group with consent of the board of directors. 
Vehicles include two engines, two tankers, one mini-pumper, four brush trucks, and one rescue truck. LHFPD also has an oxygen cascade system for refilling SCBAs it makes available to surrounding fire districts.  
Osage Valley incorporated in 2000. Number of board members increased from three to five in the August 2016 election. Ron Taddiken has been fire chief for seven years. 
Property tax revenue is “not very much,” Taddiken said. Fundraisers save them from having to close. Calls average 30 per year for response to cover fires, brush fires, structure fires, and to assist in helicopter landings for life flights. 
Vehicles include two 1986 brush trucks, one ’62 and one ’72 pumper truck, a 2003 tanker and three 1969-1970 tankers. 
Cole Camp incorporated in 2003. Three of five board members are firemen; two often respond to calls. Burton Bormann became fire chief in 1986 upon death of the previous chief.  He was the assistant chief from 1975-1986. He is also the mayor, and owns and operates Bormann Oil Company. 
Property tax revenue is approximately $100K. Federal and MDOC matching-fund grants helped buy bunker gear, self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBA), and replacement tanks. The FPD recently spent $7,200 for custom leather boots and $12,000 for bunker gear. 
CCFPD has responded to 75 calls as of mid-November. Two response trucks head out within three minutes. Two Class-A Pumper trucks, one 1,000-gallon, one 1,250, and a 3,000-gallon tanker respond to structure fire calls. Oldest operating vehicle is a 1989 model, the newest a 2015. A 1929 Model A fire engine is parked in the bunker. 
Warsaw’s 911 is the county’s central dispatch. E-911 relays calls via pagers, hand-held radios and/or by apps on personal cellphones.  Volunteers receive a situation summary, and know how many have responded and if more volunteers need to respond. Not every volunteer can, or needs to respond to every call. The appropriate level of response depends on the nature and severity of the situation.  
Mutual aid agreements ensure necessary personnel and equipment are gathered and brought to the scene if resources of one FPD are inadequate or unavailable. Warsaw FPD has mutual aid arrangements with Lincoln, Cross Timbers, Deer Creek and Osage Valley. Lakeview Heights has arrangements with the Stover FPD and every Benton County FPD. Deer Creek FPD assists the Warsaw-Lincoln Ambulance district. Because of distance from the closest ambulance service, their EMS-trained volunteers can respond quicker to a call, assess the medical emergency and relay the information to Warsaw-Lincoln ambulance to give them a heads up on a patient’s condition.
Cole Camp or Warsaw often provide mutual aid for structure fires in the Lincoln FPD, and Cole Camp has mutual aid arrangements with nearby Lake Creek and Pettis County.  Lincoln has mutual aid arrangements with Osage Valley, Windsor, Clinton, and Lakeview Heights. 
Further, based on procedures at Cole Camp and Lincoln FPDs, no doubt Benton County’s firefighters stay prepared for quick responce. Their vehicles are fully-loaded with all manner of equipment; their garb and gear ready nearby. Firefighters can step inside their boots, pull their trousers up by the straps, grab a hat and coat, hop inside a vehicle and off they go! SCBAs to put on en route while the team discusses its action plan are positioned behind every pumper truck seat. 
After an emergency, it’s back to the station to cleanup and position everything for the next call that may come any moment. And always, reports must be filled out and filed with the authorities.
“The work can be hard, Chief Bormann said.  “It is stressful to see people going through tragedies.”  Deer Creek’s Chad Hammond was shot 29 years ago in a hunting accident and rescued by Climax Springs (now Northwest) Fire Department. “It was a pay it forward moment.”  
Volunteering is “knowing you have helped your neighbors and that others are willing to help in time of need,” said Jerry Bean, Lakeview Heights FPD. That says it all.