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A guide to getting involved with your local fire department and receiving the training to fight fires

Sept. 9, 2016

Ask just about any member of a volunteer fire department why they serve and almost universally they’ll say it’s all about giving back to their community.

firefighters“There’s a very real sense of neighbors helping neighbors, especially in a time of need,” said Jason Goeldner, chief of the Sugar Camp Volunteer Fire Department. “It does take time and there is a commitment, but the rewards are significant when you respond to an emergency and can help someone in a difficult situation.”

Across the region, volunteer fire departments are always looking for new members. So how does someone go about getting involved?

“One of the best ways to start is by working through someone who is already in the department,” said Goeldner, who also serves at Nicolet College as the associate dean of Public Safety.

“That might be a friend, a family member, or even someone you just know in the community,” he said. “And if that route is not available, say someone is new to the area, interested individuals can also simply call the chief of the department to make that initial contact. I’m sure they’d be happy to talk with you.”

Once introductions are made, along with the commitment to be a member and serve the community, new members almost always need training.

“Emergency response, when done correctly, requires its own special set of skills that can cover a fairly broad range of situations,” Goeldner explained. “These can range from first responders going to a medical emergency, to individuals handling hazardous materials situations such as a gas or oil spill, to members responding to fires that are both small and large.”

Goeldner also stressed that there is a place for everybody in just about any department.

“It’s important for responders to act as a team, with each person doing his or her part to get to the desired outcome,” he said. “You do not need to have the skills and the ability to run into a burning building to be a part of a department. There are many other support-type functions. Someone, for example, with a construction background could handle the ladders. There are tons of small engines in a department that need to be maintained and operated. Every vehicle needs a driver. The list goes on.”

And for those who want to be on the frontline, nothing can beat a solid set of skills that can only be learned through proper training.

“Fighting a fire is a combination of a science and an art,” he said. “Fire really can take on a life of its own. That’s why it is so important to have the proper training to understand the dynamics of fire, how to use the proper equipment to extinguish the fire in the fastest way possible, and how to do so in a manner where everyone stays safe.”

Hundreds of firefighters from local volunteer departments throughout the Northwoods attend classes every year at Nicolet to learn those exact skills.

Entry-level volunteers commonly start with the two-course sequence Entry Level Firefighter, part A and part B. Each course consists of 30 hours of training and, when completed, meets minimum requirements under state statute to fight fires inside of buildings.

A third course, Firefighter 1, Certified part C, consists of 36 hours of additional training and results in state Firefighter 1 certification upon successful completion of state of Wisconsin written and practical exams.

Another popular course is Hazardous Materials Operations, which is required under OSHA for Firefighters who respond to emergency releases or potential emergency releases of hazardous substances, including gasoline and oil from vehicle accidents. OSHA requires responders to be trained to at least the first responder operations level.

Goeldner noted that some of this training can take place right at a fire station while the more advanced skills are only taught on the Nicolet College campus in its fire training facility. The college is located one mile south of Rhinelander just off of Hwy. G.

All of the courses above are free to volunteer fire department members and paid for through state funds specifically for this purpose.