For Hoodland Fire, the future is now

Chief Mic Eby and fire board look to add to district's assets
by: Garth Guibord, These cots and bedrolls show by Hoodland firefighter Kim Weaver could end up in better quarters and firefighters could get better rest when the district upgrades its sleeper program.

Hoodland Fire Chief Mic Eby sees his fire district growing before his eyes. From Brightwood to Government Camp, the influx of new people coming into the area provides new challenges and opportunities to the district.

'If we did absolutely nothing for the next five years, we'd be OK,' Eby said. 'It would be a struggle, but we'd make it; more people mean more calls.'

In preparation for those calls, Eby recommended the approval of three needs - a new fire engine, improved sleeping quarters and two new firefighter paramedics - to the Hoodland Fire Board at its Feb. 13 meeting. The board, according to member Bob Reeves, unanimously decided to give Eby the go-ahead on all three.

'You always hope for positive things,' Reeves said. '(The members of the district) have a lot of good ideas; they're utilizing their talents.'

Those talents will be supplemented by two new firefighter paramedics whom Eby hopes to hire by September. Eby estimated that up to 90 percent of the calls the district responds to are medical in nature, and he also noted that due to the distance involved in getting patients to hospitals, the two positions are needed.

'Our treatment time has got to be a little more extreme simply because the golden hour that we have to protect is going to be used up during transportation,' Eby said. 'We have to package them properly.'

Firefighter paramedics require more skills than emergency medical technicians, such as knowledge in cardiac medicine, pediatrics and pharmacology. The district now has seven paid positions, including an administrative assistant. Three of those positions are firefighter paramedics.

A new fire engine could arrive for the district within a year, according to Eby. The district is taking unsolicited bids for it, with a presentation before the board expected to take place at the fire board's Tuesday, March 20, meeting.

The engine's design is expected to meet the needs of Government Camp, including four-wheel drive, a tank with a 1,000-gallon capacity and the ability to service taller buildings.

'It's kind of like a Swiss Army knife of fire engines,' said Eby.

Meanwhile, two options exist for improving the quarters for the district's sleeper program, in which firefighters stay overnight at the station. Firefighters who sleep at the main station are housed in a large office on cots. Eby would like to see the district bring in a recreation vehicle or expand the building to include permanent accommodations.

'If they had a place they could really sleep in, that'd be good,' Eby said. 'The office isn't really conducive to sleeping.'

Eby estimates that an RV would cost approximately $40,000 while building expansion would cost about $80,000. The expansion might require a bond measure or levy to help fund the improvements, while Eby noted that the district could probably afford an RV right now.

Unfortunately, the district might have to get zoning changes or a variance to the property surrounding the main station in order to bring in an RV. According to senior firefighter Scott Kline, the property around the tower next to the station is zoned Hoodland residential, and the property to the east of the station is zoned rural tourist commercial.

'There are a lot of variables in it right now,' Kline said. 'Right now zoning does not allow for an RV unless it's an established mobile home park.'

Kline said the process to get a variance began last week, and it could take up to 120 days to complete.

When the district finds permanent sleepers' quarters, Eby plans to move into the office, designated for the chief. Eby had accepted the chief's position on a test-basis in December, but he has now committed to it on a permanent basis.

'I feel really good about this, (but) I'm still learning as a chief,' Eby said. 'You can't just sit back on what you've got and think you've done it. There's always something on the horizon.'