October 7, 2014

Firefighters give of their time to serve their community

By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer

Watford City volunteer firefighters  are on pace for responding to approximately 275 to 300 calls by the end of 2014. The largest percentage of those calls are motor vehicle accidents, with false alarms a close second in the running.
“Back when I started, about 11 years ago, we had around 30 calls a year,” said Justin Voll, Watford City Fire Department secretary/treasurer. “And a good deal of those were grass fires, not a lot of motor vehicle accidents.”
A new group of volunteer firemen just went through the 100+ year traditional initiation into the department. This included a very entertaining musical piece performed by the ‘new guys’ at a number of local businesses in Watford City, among other initiation steps that had to be performed. That brings the total number of volunteer firefighters now to 33.
Three years ago, the limit for volunteers at the fire department was increased to include 35 volunteers. With the addition of five new volunteer firefighters just in the last couple of weeks, it’s the first time the fire department has been this close to their maximum number limit.
“It’s awesome!” said Steve Sanford, Watford City Fire Department lieutenant.
What the community needs to understand however, is that these individuals have full-time jobs. The time they are donating into the training and operation of the fire department is 100 percent voluntary, and in addition to their full-time jobs and lives. It’s a very selfless job these volunteers are performing for the betterment of the Watford City community.
On average, an emergency call the volunteer firefighters respond to takes anywhere from two to five hours. Depending on the severity of the call, it could be even longer.
Not only are firefighters giving their time to respond to the multitude of calls, there is a great deal of ‘behind-the-scenes’ work that takes place as well. There are a number of tasks that have to be completed on a weekly basis right at the fire department, like checking the suits and equipment the firefighters use on these calls, and making sure they are up to par and safe to use.
“Our guys are giving a lot of their time, but it’s our fire chief and assistant fire chief that are giving more of their time than even the typical fire chief or assistant fire chief does anywhere else,” said Sanford. “A great deal falls on their shoulders, above and beyond what the rest of us even do.”
With the swarm of emergency calls increasing every year, the demands of the volunteer fire department rise as well.
“We serve a huge area,” said Voll. “In addition to serving Watford City, we serve a large portion of McKenzie County as well. Along with the Keene Fire Department, we are the only two departments in this county that have Vehicle Extrication Certifications.”
 According to the North Dakota Firefighter’s Association, vehicle extrication is the process of removing a vehicle from around a person who has been involved in a motor vehicle accident, when conventional means of exit are impossible or inadvisable.
This certification makes the Watford City Volunteer Fire Department very valuable, especially with the majority of their calls being motor-vehicle-accident-related.
In addition to this specialized certification, the Watford City Volunteer Fire Department will also be adding a highly-anticipated ladder truck at the end of October or beginning of November. This will be the only ladder truck in McKenzie County. This ladder truck comes from greatly needed state and city funding.
“This is a big step for a little ol’ fire department,” said Sanford. “Well, it’s not really that little anymore.”
With a rapidly-developing volunteer fire department, a question has been floating around the community: When is this department going to become a paid department? The answer is still a pending question that city and county representatives will be meeting about sometime in the near future.
“We definitely need some paid officers,” said Sanford. “We are starting to work on ideas that will head us in that direction. We will have to figure out where the funding will come from. But we are taking steps to move forward and get some things changed.”
Along with the several needs of a growing fire department comes appreciation for the Watford City community in the continued support it gives to the volunteer fire department and firefighters.
“The community has been awesome in supporting us!” said Voll. “With the donations from individuals and businesses here in Watford City, it’s just above and beyond anyone’s expectations. It’s very exciting to see and be a part of.”