The East Fork Professional Firefighters Association welcomed four new members, Adrian Marquez, Aron Harvey, Scott Pellow and Jake Ferreira at the association’s annual banquet April 8.
Marquez, Harvey, Pellow and Ferreira graduated from the Carson City Regional Fire Academy in March.
Three East Fork training captains, Paul Azevedo, Nick Agorastos and Matt Kruse, along with representatives from Carson City Fire Department, Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District, North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District, Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District and Central Lyon County Fire District, put 22 new fire department recruits to the test over three months at the Carson City Regional Fire Academy.
Azevedo said training is an ongoing investment in the life of a firefighter. Every shift captain plans training evolutions to promote problem solving, “muscle memory” and safety standards.
“Putting these recruits through the academy costs approximately $40,000,” he said. “It takes a good five years to gain enough actual situational experience to become truly adept at the job.”
With five years’ experience being the threshold to proficiency, Azevedo said turnover in Douglas County’s fire and paramedic service is becoming problematic.
“Since the year 2000, we’ve turned over 42 employees,” he said. “We’ve lost a lot of experienced firefighters and paramedics to fire departments with advanced training and higher pay.”
Azevedo said East Fork lost seven employees to retirement or termination, nine to out-of-state agencies, and 26 to other regional fire departments. The last four employees who left East Fork Fire had over 10 years each and three were acting captains.
Azevedo said the four new recruits will make up for shortfalls from early 2016, when the fire district lost three firefighter/paramedics who were not replaced.
East Fork Fire staffs four engine companies and three ambulances (Sunridge, Minden, Ranchos and Topaz Ranch Estates) with three 3-person crews and one 2-person crew (Ranchos) with 19 firefighters daily.
“National Fire Protection Association standards for safety dictate 4-person crews,” he said. “This last year, East Fork took a huge step closer to achieving that standard. While we are not there yet, we are working with the administration to achieve an end goal of properly staffing our district.”
With 14 stations equipped with apparatus, only five are staffed with paid firefighter/paramedics.
“The administration is experimenting with different coverage models to try to work through staffing shortages, moving the north valley ambulance into the central valley,” he said. “Additionally, with Carson Valley Medical Center now owned by Renown, we are seeing more patients with instructions to transport to Renown in Reno than when it was owned by Barton Health Care. These transports take up to two hours longer, leaving fewer paramedics in the district.”
Azevedo said staffing remains a concern as summer approaches.
“Sparks is looking to hire five firefighter paramedics in the next month or so,” Azevedo said. “Their starting pay is $12,000 a year higher than East Fork’s, which is tempting to people looking to build a career.”
With wildland fire season on the horizon, the Sierra Front Incident Management Team, of which East Fork is a cooperator, will seek to deploy firefighters across the country where help is needed to fight fires. Last December, three East Fork firefighters spent two weeks in North Carolina on the Qualla Boundary Fire.
“Depending on how many open positions we have going into this fire season, we may have to limit the amount of assistance we can send to other agencies when they call for help,” Azevedo said. “With other agencies in the area looking to hire firefighter/paramedics, we’re hoping to hold on to enough experienced, qualified firefighters to keep Douglas County safe.”