Evans Valley firefighters struggle to fill the ranks

The pressures of modern life, coupled with regulatory requirements and a sparse population base, make it difficult for rural fire districts to fill their quota of volunteers, said Bill Fuller.

"We are always looking for volunteers," said Fuller, 52, fire chief for the Evans Valley Fire District for 13 years. "But if you have a family and a full-time job, it can be difficult to find time to volunteer. It can be tough for some people to volunteer in today's world.

How to help

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer for the Evans Valley Fire District can call Fuller at 541-582-0678 or check out the district website at www.evfire.org.

"The demographics are also changing," he added. "We don't have as many young families as we used to out here. We've had to look outside the box to keep operations going."

The district, which covers 26 square miles and includes about 4,000 people, has 14 volunteers, three of whom are women. The volunteers respond to about one call a day, with 70 percent being medical calls, Fuller said.

To make up for the shortfall of local volunteers, the district recruits from Medford and Grants Pass, Fuller said.

In addition, through a Rogue Community College program, the district currently has six student interns who serve as volunteers while attending the school's fire science classes.

"The students get something and we get something," he said, noting the students' classes are paid for in exchange for each student gaining valuable hands-on experience.

A 1978 graduate of Rogue River High School, Fuller worked as a mechanic who owned his own shop for years. He began volunteering for the district in 1985, becoming a full-time firefighter in 1994.

"I like the camaraderie and being able to help my community," he said. "And most of us are probably adrenaline junkies to some extent."

Many of the calls are simple, such as a diabetic emergency, he said.

"You get there and the guy is unconscious — you give him sugar," he said, noting the patient usually regains consciousness.

Bringing about that change is always a satisfying reward, he said.

But other calls, such as an accident injuring a child, are always difficult, he said.

"When you look at a 6-year-old in a car crash, that is the worst," he said.

But all firefighters, whether they are volunteer or full time, are there to help in whatever emergency pops up, he said.

"When we get a new volunteer, we always try to get them out to go on ride-alongs," he said. "We want to know if they are squeamish at the sight of blood of if they get claustrophobic going into a smoked-out room."

He referred to it as "baptism by fire," noting that it helps both the district and the volunteers to know early on whether the volunteers are up for the role of lifesaver.

Fuller would like to see another dozen volunteers step forward in his district.

"Most of the volunteers we are seeing now are on a career path," he said.

However, regardless of whether they are joining to help others, secure a career or both, volunteers are always welcome, he said.

"The ideal is a 30-year-old with a 25-year mortgage because you know they are not going anywhere," he added.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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