Volunteers Support Fire District
By Marg Jackson, Escalon Times
October 13, 2004
Escalon, while it does have some paid staff, is primarily a volunteer-supported department. One of the relative newcomers is Delbert Smith, who has spent about four years with the local department as a volunteer. He did go through Fire Academy training and has a family background in the field - his father is a fire chief in Washington - but he currently is employed at Lawrence Livermore Labs. Firefighting remains a passion, however, so he stays involved whenever he can.

"Every month we have training," Smith pointed out, noting that he first had to go through a three-month training course in order to serve in the volunteer role. That included Firefighter 1 essentials, to cover the basics of fire safety.

Smith usually covers a volunteer shift from 6 a.m. Sunday to 6 a.m. Monday and then in the evenings when his schedule allows. "I like helping the community," he said of the payback for what is typically a thankless job. "It's fun, exciting and challenging."

Assistant Chief Terry Pinheiro added that the volunteers remain the backbone of the local department, though it is becoming increasingly difficult to replace those who have left the service. "It's extremely hard," Pinheiro agreed. "The amount of time that is required to maintain the minimum amount of training is increasing constantly."

With many of the volunteers already with family and fulltime jobs, asking them to find time for fire service is "asking a lot of them," said Pinheiro. "They respond to calls at all hours of the day and night," he said. "They have to do HazMat training, confined space rescue, some medical, it's very difficult to obtain and maintain."

Right now, the department is down to about 12 volunteers with five potential volunteers ready to begin training within the next few weeks. Those hoping to volunteer must be at least 18 years of age and live within the fire district. Reserve firefighters can come in from outside the fire district to handle shift work.
Escalon has paid staff consisting of the fire chief, assistant chief, fire captain, three firefighters and one part-time office person.

Longtime volunteer Andy Dugo - who now is on the fire board and had to step down from his volunteer post - praised those who are still willing to be involved.  "I spent 14 years as a volunteer there," said Dugo, who is a pest control adviser for Mid Valley Ag. "When I joined the department, it was mostly farmers, people who wanted to donate their time and we did a lot of things, now it's primarily younger people who want to go into it as a fulltime occupation."

Some of the time in the early days included social gatherings of firefighters in addition to responding to calls. Now, Dugo said, there is so much emphasis on specialized training that it is harder to find those with the time to devote to the department. Still, he said, as a board member he appreciates those volunteers even more.  "We're in a very sound fiscal position because of the volunteers," he explained.

He also said as the community observes Fire Prevention Week, they should take the time to thank a firefighter - paid or volunteer - or any of the other safety personnel in the area. "Next time you're picking out a hero, pick a firefighter or pick a policeman," he said. "They put their lives on the line."
Especially with the volunteer firefighters, Dugo said, the public is usually unaware of all they have to go through to serve.

"HazMat, inoculations, getting a Class 1 license," he pointed out. "Maybe people don't realize everything these people are doing. When you sit down for dinner and that alarm goes off, you go...it doesn't matter if it's Christmas."

Pinheiro said anyone interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities can contact the department at 838-7500.

"Tell our volunteers what a good job they do," Dugo suggested. "I'm so proud of the work they do."

(Courtesy of Escalon Times)