As of Tuesday, August 16, 2016
GRANGEVILLE Saving structures and personal property are important to firefighters, but Bob Mager spells out their top overriding duty:
“Life safety is the first thing of everything,” he said. “If mamma can’t find little Billy then the whole thing stops. You may lose the building trying to save a life, but that’s the first thing: life safety.”
Mager upholds this top duty as chief for the Grangeville Volunteer Fire Department, recommended by a firefighter vote and then appointed to the position July 11 by the city council. Moving up from first assistant chief, Mager replaces retiring Danny Tackett, who served 30 years with the department, the last 16 as its chief.
Mager joined GVFD in 1994. Currently his day job is as Grangeville public works supervisor. He has worked for the city for 26 years.
Mager oversees a 17-person department (doubling also as Grangeville Rural Fire Department) with three pumper trucks, two brush trucks and one water tender; covering the city limits and the extended rural areas from Tolo Lake to Cove Road, and from the foothills to the bird farm just north of town on Highway 7. He is assisted by first assistant chief John Sangster and second assistant chief Tom Jacobs.
“You’re the guy who winds up the entire job,” Mager said of the chief position’s duties. The chief serves as the incident commander on a fire scene, coordinating with dispatchers, EMTs and law enforcement. “The biggest thing is you need to know when to go offensive or defensive,” he said, recognizing what warrants putting firefighters inside a structure to save it and/or when to pull people out when it’s essentially beyond saving.
On the management side, the position ensures the mayor and city council are informed on its operations, and also that the department and personnel have both sufficient and working equipment, as well as training for firefighters.
“It’s taking care of your guys, understanding what their strengths and weaknesses are,” he said, and assigning them to tasks best suiting their abilities and interests. In this region, it also means working with state and federal agencies, such as Idaho Department of Lands and the Forest Service, ensuring good relations are maintained and that communication systems are compatible.
The chief also serves in public relations, coordinating education presentations in schools and advising the community on issues for awareness or involvement. Firefighters also run the Border Days fish pond, the July 4 fireworks show, and help the local schools with a firewood raffle.
“Every October we put on a presentation in the schools for Fire Awareness Week,” Mager said. “We get with the kids to help them understand what we do, and to not be threatened if we come through their door with our yellow turnouts and smoke mask on.”
The department prides itself on not only its safety but also its fast response to incidents, according to Mager, and that last is driven by firefighters understanding what people stand to lose in a house fire; not just lives but personal records of those lives.
“People lose everything; their life history in pictures, the walls where their kids were measured growing up,” Mager said. “They want to be there for those people,” to protect lives, to put the fire out safely, and as part of that to save somebody’s history. Firefighters will also be helping to salvage what they can to help minimize losses and perhaps have some basics to get them through that night.
“It’s a caring about your community that makes you want to do this job the most,” he said.
By far, dumpster and chimney fires are the department’s frequent calls; hot stove ashes disposed in the trash, and inadequate cleanings or insufficiently hot enough fires that allow creosote build-up are the causes. Field fires are another; a debris burn that quickly gets out of control when wind and humidity levels change, “and it goes into the neighbors and burns their field down,” Mager said.
The department has spots for up to 24 firefighters. Volunteers are encouraged to apply, and pending a background check and chain of command review, they can be on the department within a month and a half.