One of the West’s oldest, active volunteer fire department struggling | NevadaAppeal.com

One of the West’s oldest, active volunteer fire department struggling

Amanda Hammon, Appeal staff writer
Photo by Rick GunnMel Woodgate, past president of the Warren Engine Co., stands in front of a 1927 Seagrave, while Les Groth, also former past president, rear, stands on a 1913 chaindriven chemical wagon.
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There was a time if Warren Engine Company didn’t show up to a fire, nobody did.

But times change.

Gone are the days when dozens of WECO members raced to the sound of a blaring whistle to beat not only other engine companies to a blaze, but also to beat their fellow volunteers to the best fire equipment.

With a paid fire department on call in Carson City 24-hours a day, calls for WECO volunteers are answered, on average, by 1.4 volunteers per call. At least three are needed to run a fire engine.

Last year, WECO members responded to 57 calls for help, down from 101 the year before, according to fire department information.

Around 50 past volunteer firefighters make up Warren Engine Company, but the active, firefighting capable portion of the organization is down to about five active members.

It’s not that Warren Engine Company fails at recruiting volunteers. Dozens take intensive training each year but “the tough part is keeping people around,” said Don Blanchard, a 23-year WECO member.

Pete Baker, WECO first assistant chief, said WECO members are required to have the same basic firefighter training as paid firefighters and, after intensive basic training, have to attend weekly training sessions meeting strict state and federal standards to stay an active member. The city gives the organization a $40,000 budget yearly to conduct training and buy equipment.

“It’s hard to retain interest,” Baker said. “Mainly what people want is a career in firefighting. They want training, and they hear about us. We give such good training.”

Baker said he knows many want the training to try to springboard into a full-time job, but he said he can’t turn away potential volunteers.

“We say, ‘If you’re interested, we’d love to have you aboard. We’d appreciate it if you didn’t run out and go somewhere else,” Baker said. “It doesn’t always work, but there’s not much more we can tell them. It’s a volunteer thing.”

Just because there are paid firefighters, doesn’t mean there’s not still a need for volunteer fire crews, though.

Carson City Fire Chief Lou Buckley yearly asks city leaders for more firefighting personnel. Reinvigorating Warren Engine Company could be a way to “hire” new people without actually hiring more firefighters. It could potentially cut down on firefighter overtime as well, Buckley said.

The paid firefighter’s contract forbids WECO members from being primary responders, Buckley said, but if he had enough volunteers around, he could have extra engines, extra hands to do community service-type projects and extra logistics help during fire and EMS operations.

WECO members recently turned their administrative functions over to the fire department. Buckley understands he has not only a dwindling volunteer organization on his hands, but also a historical community resource. He wants to change the slide of Warren Engine Company from an active few and restore it to a well-known community organization that will continue to live up to its motto “Where duty calls, there you’ll find us.”

Buckley said over the next three to five years, the fire department will focus on building between 30 and 40 active WECO members so when volunteers are needed, at least five could show up.

It’s not a job just any volunteer can do.

WECO applicants have to be in good health, pass a physical agility test, running, lifting and crawling. Not being claustrophobic is a plus. Potential volunteers have to have emergency medical technician training and ambulance experience.

“From a cultural, sociological perspective, there’s a lot of tradition and history that I’d hate to see the community loose,” Buckley said.

YOU CAN HELP

For information on joining Warren Engine Company, call 887-2210, ext. 14 or apply at any Carson City fire station or online at http://www.carson-city.nv.us/CCFD.

The Warren Engine Company Museum is located at Fire Station No. 1.