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Firefighter shortage a life or death matter




Home heating fires are popping up on regional and national newspaper pages, but the “story behind the story” is not what could have been done to prevent these, but whether someone will show up to put out the fire in time. Or at all.

Check out Lucky Brandt’s plea in this week’s letters page. He’s a longtime Kooskia firefighter raising such a warning, and also a call: Idaho County needs more volunteer firefighters.

As does the nation.


David Rauzi

Recent statistics from the National Fire Protection Agency show the number of volunteers nationwide has dropped by more than 11 percent since the mid-1980s. OK, the numbers help us see there’s a problem, but what does that drop mean in human terms?

First, be resigned that you’re going to lose your property, especially in the more remote and less populated areas of the county. A house, barn, vehicles, livestock, the tools of your livelihood: Fire will take it all. People too, and though it’s been blessedly just a few within our region, those fire victims meant the world to someone.

Fewer bodies ready to jump at the sound of the page-out will mean fewer available to be on-call, and those who are will shoulder a greater burden of the duties that may lead to burnout and their departure.

And those duties aren’t just pulling hose and shooting water, all the while they suck smoke and fight exhaustion in conditions conducive to either heat stroke or hypothermia (and sometimes both on the same day). Volunteers are also out there running fund-raisers and seeking grants and donations to keep the firehouse doors open — trucks need fuel, tires and maintenance; firefighters need current gear and training. That takes money (from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars) and time; both are precious commodities for many here who work hard enough in their day jobs, and then they also have to put on their fire helmet and jingle a collection can at the supermarket door to support their community service.

We could continue to pound this drum, but we’re guessing you already know how this script plays out. So, the point is, if we value the way of life we have here and want it to continue, we need to put forward the effort. And that means sacrifice of our time…which really is the sticking point for most of us, as it’s easy to throw money at something but much harder to fight our selfish nature to put in the hours and weekends this commitment takes.

How daunting is this? Miles of coverage area along the Salmon River Canyon, through the Clearwater Valley and up into Powell, back into draws and dirt roads in every nook and cranny of the county, and in your town, and across the Camas Prairie.

How doable is this? Ask the bunch out there who are currently pulling the load. But be ready for their hands to come out, not to take your money but to join theirs to take on the work that is literally a life or death matter.


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