Fire in the Hole...: Needs are great, time is valuable
Working as a firefighter in a small town can be a tough task to handle. With a team of volunteers in the community and few full-time staff members, the fire departments across the county do a little bit of everything to keep their areas prepared and safe.
Fire departments in the county including Price, Helper, Wellington, East Carbon and Sunnyside all deal with similar issues in trying to keep their communities safe. People in the community are needed to volunteer, taking time away from their jobs and families, to be on call in the event of an emergency. To be fully prepared for a call, firefighters are constantly training for any situation they may encounter including firefighting, EMS, rescue, extraction from a vehicle and more. To continue being certified, firefighters must take yearly tests to keep up their knowledge of everything they must do when called out for an emergency.
While the departments may be working with volunteers, it doesn't make any difference when it comes to the budget. Much like other public safety entities, firefighters need constant training, updated equipment and emergency vehicles to perform their duty. But with budget constraints, it takes a lot of work to make everything come together in the end, said Paul Bedont, Price City fire chief.
While Price and other towns in the county may be small next to a city like Salt Lake or Provo, they still need the same equipment and money in the budget to work well. The costs for equipment varies from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.
To bring in a new volunteer firefighter, a department may spend upwards of $5,000 getting all of the necessities each volunteer needs. Masks can cost $300 and the breathing apparatuses needed, known as self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), can go for as high as $4,000. Add in other needs such as boots, helmets and jackets, the cost for a firefighter is even more. A fully equipped fire engine, which needs to be replaced every 15 to 20 years, can go for $400,000.
While the equipment may be expensive for departments, no one wants to get materials on the cheap just to save money, Bedont said.
"When you are putting your life on the line, you want the equipment to be up to date and not malfunction while out on the job," stated Bedont.
In order to get the most life out of the equipment, everything is constantly checked both by firefighters and factory representatives to ensure that all is functioning correctly. The boots, jacket and turnouts for a firefighter can last up to 10 years, but that is definitely the limit. With every call or emergency fire fighters respond to the materials can become worn out and eventually need replacing. Normally if the turnouts are well taken care of, they realistically can last up to seven years, Bedont said.
While equipment may be a high priority, it's only one aspect on a checklist needing to be looked at every year by city councils across the county. Last year, East Carbon and Sunnyside opened the doors to the new Joint Public Safety Building, housing all of the emergency and fire response vehicles as well as the volunteers in the area.
For Price, Bedont said there are a few areas that need to be addressed in the near future. With the call volume in the area increasing, there is a need for more volunteers. Currently there are 24 volunteers with Price Fire and the department is working to bring in two more volunteers to help out. Bedont also said he has discussed the possibility with the Price City Council about having full-time staff members at the department. At the present moment, Bedont is the only full-time staff member with Price Fire.
"The call volume is making the need for more help in the department really big for us right now," said Bedont.
While they always have a need for newer equipment, Bedont said a new fire station is needed in Price. But with the economy still in question at times and the effect it has on budgets across the spectrum, it can be a situation of needs versus wants, said Bedont.
"Firefighting has changed and it's not the same at it was 30 years ago," he said. "It's an ever-changing situation and not changing and adapting to the times is not good."
The budget may be tight, equipment may need to be replaced and the occupation can be hard on a person, but the volunteers are what keep everything working, Bedont said.
"They volunteer their time to help out the community," he said. "Keeping up on the skills needed for the job can be tough but they work very hard to get everything done and serve the community."