volunteer firefighting

Firefighting is far more than putting out blazes

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   It’s not enough anymore for firefighters to just battle blazes. For years, they donned protective gear to extinguish burning structures. They have handled hazardous material spills on highways and railways. And they trained to respond to meth labs. But now, firefighters from big cities to small town volunteer departments have to prepare to handle a deadly threat that is so small they may not even be able to see it. On Saturday, volunteer firefighters from throughout Northwest Ohio learned how they can keep themselves safe as they respond the heroin crisis in the state. They were reminded of Ohio’s dubious distinction of having the second most opiate overdose deaths, with more than 5,200 last year. Drugs like heroin, cocaine and counterfeit prescription pills are now commonly laced with fentanyl to increase potency. Fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled if it becomes airborne. A speck the size of a few grains of salt can potentially kill a 250-pound man. Many volunteer firefighters – who are willing to respond to fires and accidents in the middle of the night – didn’t sign up for this. But it’s now part of the job, explained Wood County Emergency Management Agency Director Brad Gilbert, who serves as co-chair of the fire school. During one fire school class on Saturday, a firefighter from rural Williams County said he was on three runs involving heroin over a recent weekend. Another firefighter from Archbold talked about responding to a double overdose involving a man and his stepdad. Both men were revived. The stepdad went into treatment, but the son refused treatment and went to prison. “Everybody’s community is affected by this,” said an instructor from the Multi-Area Narcotics Task Force from Northwest Ohio. “A lot of time it’s the same house you go to. The people are overdosing time, after time, after time.” The Good Samaritan Overdose Immunity Law adopted in Ohio in 2016 allows people to report an overdose without fear of facing drug charges. They are given chances to enter treatment programs instead of jail. But on the third call, the immunity – and patience of first responders in some cases – is exhausted. The more than 400 firefighters attending the weekend fire school held at Bowling Green State University also got refreshers on more traditional topics. They had training sessions on agricultural accidents, medical treatment of pediatrics and geriatrics, search and rescue using a self contained breathing apparatus, water tanker shuttles, fire and explosion investigations, methamphetamine labs, flammable liquid spills, fire search and rescue, silo explosions, and severe weather. Gilbert said he expected another type of training to be added to the fire school’s classes next year – tactical EMS training. This is “unfortunately” becoming necessary as fire and EMS departments respond to mass…


Demands of volunteer firefighting lead some to burnout

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   As a young boy, Tim Schroeder remembers kids chasing behind fire trucks, then watching in awe as volunteer firefighters battled blazes. Children dreamed of becoming firefighters, and as soon as reaching adulthood, many joined the ranks. That was then. Now, most kids don’t race behind fire trucks, they have different dreams, and most don’t sign up on volunteer fire departments. Most prefer jobs that pay, that have reasonable hours and that don’t demand quick departures during dinner or in the middle of a deep sleep. That has some volunteer fire departments struggling to survive. Add to that the training requirements, the equipment costs, the calls at all time of day and night, and the fact that many employers no longer let volunteer firefighters leave work for fire calls. Despite all those odds, Wood County still has 23 fire departments, the vast majority volunteer. A few neighboring departments have merged to become fire districts, but only one – Jerry City – has shut down in the last few decades. Though their memberships are shrinking, and in some cases graying, the fire departments are a source of community pride and camaraderie. “There’s still the excitement,” Schroeder, a member of Weston EMS, said Saturday during the Northwestern Ohio Volunteer Firemen’s Association training held at Bowling Green State University. “It’s just a struggle to get personnel.” The volunteer job demands time and dedication. One of the hurdles to getting and retaining firefighters is the training. Over the weekend, about 700 area volunteer firefighters were at BGSU trying to rack up some free training hours. The basic initial firefighter training is 36 hours. That used to be good enough to keep someone on the department for a lifetime. But now an additional 18 hours of training is required each year. “You used to get a certification and that was it,” said Tom Bentley, from Wayne Volunteer Fire Department. “The older guys don’t want to maintain that,” said Dave Miller, from Woodville Township Fire Department and chairman of the fire school. In addition to firefighting skills, the volunteers learn how to handle hazardous materials, search and rescue skills, emergency medical skills, and how to drive fire trucks. Over the weekend, there were classes on handling agricultural accidents, tanker shuttles to put out fires where there are no fire hydrants, fire investigations, the heroin epidemic, meth labs, natural gas safety, silo explosions and severe weather. “It’s hard to attract people with all the training requirements,” said Ryan Lee, of Central Joint Fire District. But then, there is a reason for the training. “It’s a dangerous job,” he said. Some departments have weekly training for the firefighters, like Central Joint, which drills every Tuesday evening. While that is useful, it leaves little time for the socialization that previously attracted firefighters,…