PINEDALE – The day after Sublette County honored its emergency personnel from different agencies at First Responders Appreciation Day, Sublette County Unified Fire returned the favor, holding a free pancake breakfast Saturday for anyone from the county who could make it.
But there was other firefighter business afoot besides frying up some hotcakes.
The department’s personnel also used it as an occasion to give kids some hands-on training – literally – in how to tell if a fire is behind a door and how to exit a smoke-filled, burning building. (The tricks: use the back of your hand to sense if a door is warm because it’s more sensitive than your palm; crawl low to stay beneath the smoke; and turn around and hold onto the window frame when exiting a building via a window).
Other firefighters used the event to distribute information about fire prevention and about the department’s program to install, free of charge, fire alarms for the elderly and low-income people, for families with small children and for people with disabilities.
“This just allows us to interact with the community and get the message out for fire prevention,” said Matt Hansen, a fire prevention officer.
There was even a little informal recruiting of potential firefighters, although the department’s big push for recruits usually comes in January.
“We take every opportunity to do some of that,” said Mike Petty, whose duties Saturday also included distributing balloons.
In fact, said Fire Chief Shad Cooper, Sublette County Unified Fire is big enough that membership is usually in flux, and recruits are needed every year.
“It’s a volunteer organization, so there’s a constant flow of people who move in and join or who move away. We try to maintain about 100 volunteers. Right now we’re sitting at 103.”
Since the move to a unified fire system more than three years ago, there are no longer six separate fire departments in the county. Instead there are six stations: Station No. 1 in Pinedale, No. 2 in Marbleton, No. 3 in Bondurant, No. 4 in Boulder, No. 5 in Daniel and No. 6 in Kendall Valley.
“Last year we had right at about 200 calls,” Cooper said.
And nowadays, all six stations have uniform equipment and the same training, making it much easier to respond to fires, he added.
The payoff for homeowners and business owners?
On the Insurance Services Organization’s scale that rates communities on their capacity to deal with fires – an important consideration for insurers – the county now gets better ratings than individual communities did before. On an ISO scale on which lower numbers are better, the county now gets a 3. That’s the same as in Rock Springs, which is a staffed department, not a volunteer department. Previously, Pinedale had a 6, and Big Piney/Marbleton had a 5.
That’s good news for Sublette County.
“Most homeowners and businesses have seen a reduction in insurance costs,” Cooper said.
As on Saturday, the unified department is also working hard to prevent fires before they ever start by emphasizing fire safety and education.