Manti told volunteer firefighters put their lives and time on the line to save others
By Suzanne Dean
MANTI—Recruiting, training and retaining volunteers is always a challenge for local fire departments.
A volunteer fire department is “kind of a bad business model,” Manti Fire Department Chief Elliot Anderson told the city council at a meeting Jan. 29.
“You want to take their time from them; we’re not going to pay them for doing it, and they’re going to risk their lives.”
As of last Christmas, the department had 10 firefighters, six active and four reserve. Some of the reserve members had left on LDS missions, but were expected to return to active status when they returned. Others had moved to different communities, but could still be called in on some fires.
But currently, the department has 25 firefighters, including 20 actives and five reserves.
Since Christmas, the department has brought on eight recruits, including two women. Another six who had been away at college or had been loosely associated with the department have become active members.
Most of the new members are 23 or younger. “That’s promising in terms of physical abilities,” Anderson said.
And the female firefighters “add some awesome dynamics to our department. It’s great to have them,” the chief said. “They hold their own when they’re out there. They’re some of our best firefighters.”
One of the council members asked Anderson how the department had done it.
“The whole fire department has worked as a team to accomplish that,” he said. “…It boils down to Station 2 (each department in Sanpete County has a station number) is not a fire department, it’s a family, and that’s what’s attracting all these new people and will continue to attract them. It’s the whole group working [together] and loving what they do.”
With the new members, the department is looking at a big training agenda. A firefighter needs 200 hours to be fully certified and another 12-14 hours to add a wildland certification.
“With that many new personnel, equipment is going to be a huge challenge,” Anderson added. “I’m working on grants to help mitigate that.”
One important item is a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) that can enable a fire fighter to breathe in an environment filled with smoke or toxic fumes. SCBAs are vital if a fire fighter has to go into a burning building to rescue someone.
The units cost $8,000 and have a 20-year shelf life. Some of Manti’s units will expire within a year. After that, they cannot be legally used.
Anderson told the city council he is working with other fire chiefs and the Sanpete County Fire District to see if SBCAs can be addressed on a countywide basis.
Anderson presented statistics on the Manti department’s activities over the past six months.
The department put in 87 hours responding to 10 structure fires. One of the most significant was a fire that destroyed a turkey shed southwest of Manti owned by Southwest Farms.
Anderson followed up on the incident and learned that the operation had received an insurance payment “and it sounds like things are working out for Southwest.”
“It might not have looked like a busy year with big smoke columns” in the sky, Anderson said. But Manti firefighters helped with 23 wild land fires.
Manti volunteers, along with volunteers from other communities who helped on the same fires, put in 280 hours fighting wildland fires.
The Manti crew went on eight “ambulance assists,” where the Manti ambulance association requested help lifting someone or freeing a person who was trapped. Those calls added up to 40 hours.
The firefighters put in 50 hours responding to fire alarms, although none of them turned out to be fires, Anderson said.
The group oversaw fire drills at Manti Elementary and Manti High schools. Those took up 20 staff hours.
Finally, the department put in 85 hours directing fireworks displays and providing protection at the Sanpete County Fair Demolition Derby.
Along with training, the Manti fire fighters logged 611 hours, Anderson said.
“Pretty impressive for volunteers,” he said.
“We appreciate everything you do to keep us safe,” Mayor Korry Soper said.