Wanted: Volunteers to fight fires
BVFD in need of 11 to fill 40-member roster
April 24. 2013 8:35AM
The Brandon Fire Department is looking for a few good men and women.
The volunteer fire-fighting agency has openings on its roster for 11 members, and Chief Robert Dykstra is confident that recent changes to the types of calls they respond to will help them fill the roster deficit.
Since March 1, Brandon firefighters are no longer being dispatched to code 1 (non-emergency) and code 2 (inter-facility transfer) calls.
“Being that we have a full-time ambulance service here in town, we’re hoping to reduce our calls by about 150 (calls annually),” Dykstra said.
In the first week alone, the new measure reduced their call volume by six.
“It seems to be working,” the chief said, assuring residents the department will respond to those calls when requested.
Approximately 70 percent of the calls the Brandon Fire Department responds to are medical-related, Dykstra said, and about every 10 years, the call volume doubles.
From Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 last year, local firefighters were dispatched on 570 occasions.
“More than half of our time is training,” said Matt Cerwick, who serves on the BVFD Board of Directors. On averaged, firefighters dedicate about 2,000 hours. But it’s not all fire fighting, he said.
“We try to get involved in the community as much as we can without wearing our guys out,” added Gary Lembcke, 2nd assistant chief.
The 11 openings on the department were created when four members moved away, and another seven – with 10 to 20 years of experience – have retired.
“Some people are interested when they find out our call volume and some people are scared off unfortunately,” Dykstra said. “But whenever they’re available, we expect some sort of commitment level, as there’s not a set schedule since we are volunteers.”
The number of calls vary from week to week, the chief said. For instance, during the recent spring storm, the department was summoned a number of times to false calls that were related to the work being done on the water tower. “They’re trying to maintain pressure, but buildings with sprinkler systems fluctuate and that sets off the alarms, so five calls came in at the same time, but we still have to verify there’s nothing and re-set the system,” Dykstra said. “We can go three or four days without a call and the one day, we’ll have seven or eight calls.”
To be a Brandon firefighter, volunteers must be at least 21 years of age and reside within the Brandon fire district, which encompasses the city of Brandon and Brandon Township.
“They have to have a desire to help others and give of yourself,” Dykstra said.
The Brandon department, like other volunteer departments, struggles at times to fully staff its daytime calls.
“The majority of Brandon, like it or not, works outside of Brandon,” Dykstra said.
Cerwick said it’s important that local business owners allow their employees to be a volunteer firefighter. “So we’re making a plea to some of the businesses,” he said.
But Brandon, like the other county departments, also has a mutual aid agreement in place, and automatic aid is in place for all structure fires.
There are three meetings each month for department members. The first and third Mondays of the month is firefighter meetings, and the fourth Monday is EMT-medical training. Department members are also called on the first Saturday of each month to do truck and equipment checks.
“We’ve caught a few things that way,” Dykstra said. “And it’s a good way for our members to familiarize themselves with the equipment.”
To learn more about becoming a Brandon firefighter, go to the department’s website, brandonfiredeparment.com or contact Dykstra at 582-3232.
Funding the BVFD
The Brandon Volunteer Fire Department conducts two annual fundraisers, its spring dance and pancake breakfast, which kicks off Fire Prevention Week in October. The department has also gained an opportunity to generate funds through a new event that is moving to Brandon this summer, Automania. The BVFD will supply volunteers, and in return, Automania organizers will pad the department funds with a sizable donation.
“The dance is a pretty good fundraiser for us,” Dykstra said. “It’s not only for us, but helps businesses advertise, so it’s a win-win for both.”
In addition to their fundraising activities, the City of Brandon supplements their budget annually.
The local department has proved to be frugal in its spending. Take for instance, the new water tender truck that’s now in service. The department purchased a used truck chassis and Spartan ERV, a local fire equipment company, built the body. The unit replaces their outdated water tender, which was a converted milk truck. The equipment’s primary purpose is for rural fires.
“Even though we don’t go on a lot of rural calls, we still need the equipment,” Dykstra said.
Brandon firefighters also have their eye on new rescue equipment that would be used to stabilize overturned vehicles. “It’s the type of equipment that you’d like to have at your disposal but don’t want to use,” Dykstra explained.
The public safety equipment, however, comes at a price.
“Anytime you put fire or rescue associated with it, the price goes up,” he said. “We’re very fortunate to have the equipment that we do have and by in large, we’re more fortunate than most of the volunteer departments in the area.”
Cerwick said none of the department vehicles are no older than 10 years. Within the last five years, the BVFD has replaced its structure engine, added a wildland rescue unit, and water tender truck.
“Through the gracious help of the city – and they really stepped up to the plate – are we able to do it, and the community through fundraisers and donations,” Lembcke said.
When: Saturday, May 4 – 8:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Where: Brandon Fire Hall, 401 N. Sioux Blvd.
Cost: $7.50 in advance; $10 at the door