Courier Staff Writer
Wapello County Rural Fire is looking for four more volunteer firefighters to round out a staff of 25.
Wapello County Rural Fire Chief Bryan Ziegler said the department has had some turnover in the last six months.
In July 2012 after the board voted in Ziegler as the new chief, former chief Wes Woten and his two sons quit the department.
“We’re still rebuilding from that,” Ziegler said.
The department’s main problem is responding to calls during the day.
“So many of our guys work that it makes it more difficult to have an appropriate response for daytime calls,” he said. “We’re still OK because we have other options. If we’re ever short of people — which can happen because we don’t demand that people leave work — we will call on mutual aid, and that’s actually worked quite well.”
Mutual aid includes all fire departments in the surrounding area, as well as the Ottumwa Fire Department.
“Being a volunteer is totally outside of your current job,” Ziegler said. “Some people can leave work to go to fires, and it’s really nice if they can, but sometimes we try to find people working second or third shift so they’re available during first shift.”
The department currently has 21 volunteer firefighters, and can sustain a maximum of 25 volunteers. It has been in operation since 1971 and handles structure fires, grass fires, vehicle fires, accidents and responds to medical incidents.
All education they need is provided in training, he said.
“We try to screen people based on people who work as a team, and other things that are important like physical and mechanical ability,” he said.
With the fire training tower on Indian Hills Community College’s north campus, the firefighters have been able to complete hands-on training, as well as take several courses at the college, such as Firefighter I and II and Hazard Material Operations. The department pays for each firefighter’s training.
“It could probably take them a year to get up to speed,” he said of the training process. “And we do a lot with training, too. We’ll take them to respond to calls with us.”
Each volunteer firefighter carries monitors with them at all times, and when the dispatch center sends out a 911 message, responding volunteers will go either directly to the scene or to the fire station on Mary Street.
The department serves five townships in the county: Dahlonega, Keokuk, Green, Center and Richland.
“It’s volunteer, but it’s rewarding,” Ziegler said. “We get to help people and serve them when they’re in need.”
Ziegler began at the department in 1988 because of his mechanical skills and his desire to give back to the community.
“Last year was one of our highest,” he said in terms of calls. “We had 310 calls, which includes medical calls where we respond with an ambulance. [The spike in calls was due to] a lot of grass fires we responded to last summer because of the drought.”
Those interested in applying to become a volunteer firefighter must:
• Send a simple resume to Wapello County Fire Department, 714 W. Mary St., Ottumwa, Iowa 52501 or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org
• Live within the areas served or in Ottumwa
• Make a time commitment to the department