Gardiner’s firefighters and rescue squad are all highly trained professionals; they’re also unpaid volunteers. The roster consists of 35 active firefighters with an average of nine responding to a fire call. In addition, the Rescue Squad has 17 Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), eight of them very active, with an average of five responding to an EMT call.
Just to ride a fire truck requires 100 hours of “Firefighter 1” class. To become an EMT requires an additional 175 hours and re-certification every three years. The department also has training at least one night a week, which includes Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and National Incident Management System (NIMS) updates. (The latter ensures that all emergency agencies use exactly the same nomenclature: when seconds matter, there’s no time for “what does he mean by that?”)
Those interested can become cadets at age 16 and full members at 18. Fire Chief Dave Bailin says, “This is probably one of the closest knit groups in town. Because of the amount of time you spend together and the amount of danger you deal with, it actually brings you a lot closer.
Kathie Holter, Captain of the Gardiner Rescue Squad, emphasizes, “If you don’t have family support, it’s very difficult.” Not surprisingly, when there is support, it often turns into involvement. Luke Lyons, Chairman of the Fire District, illustrates, “My wife is now an EMT; my son started out as a cadet.”
In addition to no pay, volunteers also get no medical or disability insurance beyond what they have on their own. So what do they get? Kathie Holter says, “We’re helping our community. And it’s a second family. We have a lot of fun.” Dave Bailin concurs; “We’re helping people.” Fire Department President, Jamie Ridgeway says, “Having my wife be an EMT, that knowledge is invaluable. I have boys who’ve needed stitches and Kathy has also been to our house more than once to provide first aid.”
Jamie emphasized, “We have probably the biggest threats in the area – rock climbing; forest fire potential; sky diving; low flying planes; farm chemicals; large storage buildings; propane tanks and trucks; narrow and windy roads; new construction . . .” With a 2010 budget of $342,994, the Fire District owns and pays for maintenance of the equipment and for fire suppression and rescue supplies. The Fire Department owns and maintains the buildings, houses the equipment for which the Fire District pays rent and provides much of the labor to maintain the equipment.
“We don’t want people to have to call us, so they need to be aware of safety measures for their homes. We’d rather see them here at pancake breakfasts than at two in the morning. We’ll go out in any weather; we’ll go out for any kind of call. But we don’t want to have to,” is the way Kathie summed up.
The department was formed in 1912. “There’s a long line of very dedicated people who have been involved here long before we arrived. There are enough generational bridges that everyone has a little bit of a feel for what it was and why it’s still here,” Luke Lyons explained. “Now, we’ve got a cross section of people—the banker, the nurse, the construction guy, the IBMer, just among the four of us . . . a little bit of everything.”
The Gardiner Fire Department will celebrate its hundredth anniversary in 2012. Festivities will mark the occasion, to which the town will be invited.