- Posted January 19, 2013 by
Our Excelling Firefighters- Enriching Our Community
Oroville is fortunate to have excellent teams of firefighters working in the community. While the teams are divided into districts, they work very well together—and with other agencies—in keeping the community safe. They are quick to respond to fires and emergencies. The crews in this area did an outstanding job in keeping fires from getting out of control this past fire season. Their training and diligence truly benefited the Oroville community.
While many community members may be grateful to firefighters, most people are not aware of all that being a firefighter entails. State mandates require firefighters to have around 2000 hours of training per year, which comes out to over five hours a day. Many firefighters must pay for this training themselves, unless there is a qualified individual within the station who can train other staff members.
The training is very intense, and it is not taken lightly. Most training courses are 40-hour week classes. The fire agencies in this area work together frequently to ensure quality training is received. Recently, Oroville Fire and El Medio Fire Departments completed a “Rope Rescue Training” exercise at Centennial Park. The trainings require extensive preparation, and the crews are diligent in helping each other out in the learning process.
Once a firefighter reaches a certain level within the department, he or she can lead trainings and instruct others in the station. Chief Rusty Ohlhausen of El Medio Fire Department stated that this helps others in the station because they don’t have to pay for training provided within the department. Advancing ranks is a tedious process. To reach Certified Captain status, a firefighter must take between twelve and fourteen 40-hour-per-week classes. Ohlhausen said that his crew trains almost every day.
Besides assisting each other in training sessions, Butte County Fire Agencies help others as well. Chief Mike Shorrock of CalFire has headed up an internship program for the past 12½ years. Each spring two interns spend two months training here. Last year two French interns, Benjamin Vallet and Simon Tutiaux, received training at multiple Butte County Agencies.
Shorrock reported that although he does not have the identification of the interns who will attend this year, arrangements are being made with the University of Bordeaux IUT-1 in France. Shorrock said that he will go to the university at the end of March to provide some instruction and meet the new interns. In the meantime, he will utilize email and Skype to get to know the interns and assess which facilities would be best for their training. The interns will arrive in early April and will stay through June.
Chief Shorrock said the there used to be several departments throughout California and Nevada that hosted the interns, but that he thinks Butte County is the only area in California that provides this training at this time. Attempts were made to contact the University of Bordeaux IUT-1 to confirm this, but no response has yet been received.
Specific certifications are required to become a firefighter. Chief Ohlhausen reported that all of El Medio’s certifications come from the State Fire Marshall’s Office. Thus, the state and all other agencies know that the certified trainer is certified by the State of California. He continued, saying that all hirees for any fire department must have a minimum certification of EMT.
Ohlhausen indicated that cadets can take these classes privately or go through a fire academy, which consists of one semester of instruction. Butte, Redding, and Yuba City Colleges have programs the trainees can attend. Ohlhausen stated proudly that the local academy has about a 95% success rate in placement. He added that some firefighters who previously worked at El Medio Fire Department now work for San Francisco Fire, Santa Barbara Fire, Sacramento Fire, US Forestry, CalFire, Chico Fire, or Oroville Fire.
While he would really like many of the employees to stay, he understands the need to earn a decent income to support their families. He continued, saying that adequate funding really is not available to keep them at El Medio. His firefighters start out receiving minimum wage and receive modest pay raises upon advancement each year.
“I can’t afford to pay them what they are worth,” Ohlhausen said, “But they can get training, expertise, and skill here.”
Ohlhausen said that if firefighters get picked up by a bigger department, it is a “pat on the back to them.”
Ohlhausen stated that in order to work at El Medio, each firefighter must obtain an engineer’s status. This means they must “be proficient in driving an engine, pumping, knowing where every hydrant is, know exactly what is on their truck and how it operates- know every piece of equipment.”
From there, they can move up to the Captain’s position. However, they must take prevention, management, and command classes. It is an ongoing process for advancement.
“It’s not just handed to you,” Ohlhausen said firmly, “You have to have the knowledge and the skills to get there.”
In addition to the 10 sworn personnel, 7 volunteers work at El Medio. Ohlhausen said that at one point there were 30 volunteers, but finances are tough so they move on. They really hate to leave, and not all of them will, but for some it is a necessity. He does not try to hold them back, and there are no hard feelings. He understands the need to make a living, and he tells them there is “always a spot for them if they don’t make it someplace else.”
He added, “Our turnover has been, in the past, quite extensive; but it has kind of settled down now. It’s harder to find a job, so they are sticking it out- and I really appreciate that. I have got a great, excellent staff.”
And thank goodness they are “sticking it out” because we have a superb team of firefighters in our area. Sonny Mack, a reader and contributor of the GCG, calls them, “A well-oiled machine”, indicating that it takes a lot of teamwork and cooperation in the difficult, dangerous work that they do.
So, the next time you see one of these valiant public servants, thank them for doing such a great job—and maybe buy them a cup of coffee.
Chief Ohlhausen was very helpful in providing much of the information contained in this article. The GCG is very grateful for his assistance.
To see more pictures and watch videos of firefighters in action, go to https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.560485200645924.138782.100000533479273&type=3#!/Goldcitygazette/photos_stream