By Greg Ritchie
CROCKETT – As The Messenger honors our local firefighters this week – see the sponsors in this edition who supported our efforts and be sure to thank them – Crockett Fire Department (CFD) Chief Jason Frizzell warned city of Crockett officials his department needs more volunteers to do their job at the highest level possible.
Unforunately, it’s not the first time this reporter has brought you this story, as volunteerism is down across Houston County and across the country. Local fire departments are critically short of help as economic and social situations have changed and people are not signing up to answer the call like in earlier times.
Frizzell said CFD is no different than other area fire departments, but the areas where he is lacking help are more concentrated in nature – weekdays during the day, when most aren’t able to take off work and help like before.
“Everybody used to be able to leave their jobs, while now employers can’t afford to let their employees leave because they have a business to run,” Frizzell said. “I don’t blame people because they can’t leave work. We’re depending on other departments in the area, but everybody’s got a shortage of people during the day. We’re asking Latexo or Lovelady for help, and vice versa. It’s not just Houston County, it’s nationwide.”
CFD is authorized to have up to 30 volunteers, which would make all the difference in the world to their operations, as the paid firefighters go in first and the volunteers back them up or are available to respond to any other emergencies as needed.
“The role of the volunteer in our department is they’re on call and they get a pager. We have a phone app that alerts when there’s a fire call for them. If they’re available, they come to the station, get their gear, get in a truck and respond to a call. That’s the majority of it,” Frizzell explained. “When they’re new, they can pull a shift and actually learn the trucks, be here with paid personnel so they can train so they’re not coming here not knowing what to do.”
Even when the city is quiet, there is always plenty to do around the firehouse.
“We have daily duties like cleaning the trucks, checking all the air packs, making sure everything is ready to go when a fire comes. If a call comes in, two volunteers can come in, go with us, do what we need to do and they can go back to work or wherever. If not, they can help us get ready for the next call.”
CFD offers training at their facility and even fire school when it’s offered nearby. There is a small amount of pay for certain events and one gets to make a big difference in the community and maybe in someone’s life.
Frizzell was a young man when he began volunteering. At 380 pounds, he was tough, but not in the kind of shape you would expect to need to be in to volunteer. Frizzell has sweated off most of that weight over the years in the bulky suits and carrying equipment, but said he has a staff made of all ages and types.
“Endurance is important. Our air packs last about 20 minutes, depending on how physically fit you are. So we’re looking for people who have some endurance,” Frizzell said. “People who can lift 100 pounds – we may have to assist EMS lift patients – someone who has the heart to help out.”
CFD is willing to work with candidates, but there are a few basics you need to have before you apply.
“You need to have a valid driver’s license, because you have to get to the station to start with, and you may need to help drive a truck,” Frizzell said. “We would like a clean criminal record, although there are some minor things we can work with, but it’s a case-by-case basis.”
At the recent council meeting, Frizzell explained the critical need for volunteers to man the backup units who can help with a structure fire or save the first team if they get in trouble. Because of the current mix of paid staff and volunteers – and some clever scheduling – CFD responds incredibly quickly, but still needs to “deepen their bench” in order to handle the bigger fires or multiple calls.
20-year-old Hayden Standley was volunteering this particular day, moving around the station getting things ready for the next call. Firefighting runs in the family, his father working just down the hall. Standley has been volunteering for about a year now and is eager to continue learning to catch up with the veterans who have been training him.
“My first call – I was just a newbie. All these people had been here so long and I was a little terrified to get out there and do it,” Standley said. “But once you get started, you realize you’re just trying to help the person next to you and it’s not that bad.”
Frizzell remembers when he first started and the ranks were full.
“When I first got on and there was a fire, I showed up here and I was getting kicked off the trucks because I didn’t have seniority,” Frizzell remembered, smiling. “There have been times when we were pulling out and someone would say, ‘Stop the truck. You get out, I got more seniority!’ Now we don’t really have that, so it’s like, ‘Come on, we need you!’”
Standley understands many think as he once did. “I’m too old, too busy, that work is too hard…”
“You’re going to think those things when you start, but you have to learn to fight those fears. That’s pretty much the whole point of this job – is fight your fears, to go in and do what needs to be done. And if you can get past that first part, you’re going to be a great firefighter. It’s a mental battle more than anything,” Standley said.
If you have a heart for service and can help your community, contact Frizzell, or any of our other local fire departments. You will find a community of good people, all more than happy to help you and train you. And your community will be forever in your debt.
Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]