Like other volunteer fire departments in Siskiyou County, the Hammond Ranch Fire Company needs more volunteer fire fighters to help keep their community safe.
The Hammond Ranch Fire Company urgently needs volunteer firefighters. Assistant Chief Lori Luddon said the need is particularly great during the fire season.
“In the off season, CAL FIRE and US Forest Service seasonal firefighters volunteer with us. But once the season opens, they leave,” Luddon said.
Siskiyou County demographics work against the availability of volunteer firefighters in all volunteer departments, according to Luddon.
“Our county has had an elderly population for a long time, and more young people are moving away now to find work,” she said.
That has diminished the pool of potential volunteer firefighters for Hammond Ranch and all other volunteer departments.
Hammond Ranch Fire Company Chief Dave Jenkins described two categories of volunteers.
The first is the “young person aspiring to begin a career as a fire fighter,” Jenkins said.
The Hammond Ranch company has a number of these “sleepers” on their roster. These volunteers study and train while living in the fire house and volunteering for the company.
If CAL FIRE hires them for the season, Jenkins said, they generally work three days on and four days off. When they’re off, they serve as volunteers in Hammond Ranch.
“But there are so many fires right now that they’re all working overtime. They’re not here,” he said.
While the sleepers are an excellent resource for his department, Jenkins remarked that “if the system works the way it’s supposed to,” these young volunteers leave the area for paid fire fighting jobs once they’re trained – and the cycle begins again.
The other category of volunteer comprises people who live in the community and either work or are retired.
Young men and women who might be interested in volunteering are also committed to families and careers. The training requirements and the time required to maintain that training can be daunting, Jenkins said.
“People think, ‘I don’t have the time.’ It takes a combination of willingness and able-bodiedness and time to volunteer,” Jenkins said.
In addition, not all employers can allow volunteers to leave work in order to respond to a fire emergency. Even if an employee is able to leave, Jenkins explained, proximity is also a factor.
“An immediate response to a fire emergency requires proximity to the fire house so you can get on the scene quickly,” he said.
That poses difficulties for a potential volunteer who lives and wants to volunteer at a fire department in one city or area but works miles away in another, according to Jenkins.
Retirees, who are also in this category, must be sufficiently young and able-bodied to do the work required of a fire fighter.
Added to the pressure of having enough personnel to fight local fires is the need for local fire departments to help respond to regional and state-wide requests for help, Luddon said.
“Around the first of the year, CAL FIRE dispatch in Siskiyou County contacts local government fire departments to ask if they are prepared to respond as a strike team out of the area,” Luddon explained.
Departments able to do that are put in rotation and are called on when fires overwhelm the resources in a given area. Luddon said the Office of Emergency services makes these requests for out-of-county responses.
“If you were in the fire camps right now, you’d see personnel from California counties up and down the state helping us fight the fires up here,” she said.
Jenkins said that although the Hammond Ranch company has sent out strike teams in the past, they did not have the personnel available this season.
“Those of us who stay local are critical to the well being of the immediate community. You have to have enough resources in your home town to keep it safe,” he said.
For instance right now, according to Jenkins, the Hammond Ranch water tender is the only water tender available in the south county to bring water to the scene of local fires, if needed.
Jenkins also agreed that, due to the system of mutual and automatic aid enjoyed by neighboring departments, fire fighters who stay local help augment the resources of departments who’ve sent personnel out on strike teams throughout the state.
The Hammond Ranch Fire Company can be reached at 530-938-4200. Messages will be returned if no one is available to answer the phone.