With 320 square miles and 15,000 residents to protect, the Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District truly understands the value of dedicated volunteers who serve at headquarters and at the district’s six outlying stations.
It takes a strong commitment to volunteer, said Fire Chief Rob Goodwin. He explained the intense training requires days at the Carbondale New Member Academy over four to 12 weeks, plus 40 hours annually. Members can be certified in structural or wildland fires or both, to be able to handle different strategies.
Volunteers can also learn technical rope and river rescue. Additional paramedic and emergency medical technician (EMT) classes are offered at Colorado Mountain College.
Goodwin added, “Our job is to keep small fires small. We learn to look at the fire and not the flame.”
And they are response ready for the ongoing Grizzly Creek and any other massive fires. Presently, the 25,000 acre fire ignited near I-70 is under federal fire fighting management.
Just ask 37-year volunteer Mike Gilfry, who first was at headquarters and then shifted to the MIssouri Heights Station #85 on County Road 100 (Catherine’s Store Rd.) 18 year ago.
His primary responsibility when not answering emergency calls is maintaining the fire fighting and water hauling apparatus (called a water tender) at the station. He reported that several planes are doing flyovers to keep track of where the Grizzly Creek
Right now, Gilfry is the only volunteer there and hopes more people will consider helping out..
“We all do the best we can,” he said, “If the word comes from Carbondale headquarters, we go.”
He, like many volunteers, has a day job, so he keeps his department issued pager and radio communications device with him 24/7, especially in light of the two massive fires burning now on the Western Slope.
Deputy Chief and Operations Division head Bob Wagner recently visited Glenwood Springs Station, designated #84 off Highway 82 at the CMC turnoff, where an addition is nearing completion. This addition will have its grand opening when circumstances permit.
Wagner noted, “We will be able to have more equipment “
Wagner recalled he has been with Carbondale for eight years and started, as nearly 100 percent of the paid staff has, as a volunteer.
“I truly enjoy helping people,” he said.
The Marble Station #83 is the other site undergoing addition construction.The firefighters are permitted to go to just over the McClure Pass summit.
In Marble, two old red wagon wheels on display go back to when the fire equipment was pulled by horses around 1893. There’s also a vintage sign proclaiming sweet corn and cold drinks.
Local volunteer Max Gibbons recalled, “The sign was used for fundraising before Marble became a part of the Carbondale & Rural district. That was in 1983, I think.”
Gibbons also explained, “I’m a lifelong volunteer, and Marble is my home:” He added, “For the right person, volunteering is very satisfying.”
“I once had helped put out a local fire, and the chief asked me to join the volunteer effort.” Gibbons said, adding avalanche rescue is part of training as is rescue in the many different Marble Quarry portals.
Another Marble volunteer, Paul Wahlbrink, has been at it for two years.
“I would encourage residents to look into volunteering. it’s a big, serious job.” Wanhlbink said, plus “I really enjoy the camaraderie with fellow firefighters.”
Marble works closely with Carbondale headquarters, Mountain Rescue of Pitkin County, West Elk Mountain Rescue out of Paonia and Gunnison County emergency rescue groups.
“If we need a helicopter, it can be here from Grand Junction in only 15 to 20 minutes,” Wahlbrink said.
Department volunteer coordinator Kat Bernat said, “People have a need to enhance and be part of and help the community.”
“We plan to have open house recruitment meetings in the fall,” she announced, adding “We can’t do this with just paid staff.”