By Kim Howard
When Williston native Steve Borah signed up to be a volunteer firefighter 15 years ago, he did so because he wanted to do his part to help in town.
“I wasn’t coaching, I wasn’t teaching, I wasn’t mentoring,” Borah said. “It’s been a fantastic 15 years … It’s really, really rewarding.”
Whether the Town Meeting Day proposal to hire additional full-time staff had passed or failed, the Williston Fire Department would have been looking to add more firefighters and Emergency Medical Services providers to its on-call roster. With the defeat of Article 9, however, the department needs to beef up its on-call staff even more, according to Chief Ken Morton.
“I’d like to see 15 or 20 interested people,” Morton said. “Out of that group, I don’t know what we’re going to find for the type of commitment people can give.”
The commitment is significant, according to both Borah and Morton.
“It is a lot of work, and it is a lot of inconvenience to your life,” Borah said. Calls come in the middle of dinner, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the worst rain or snowstorms, he said. “You get called and you’ve got to do what you’ve got to go do.”
In addition to an application process, applying for the job includes agility and skills testing, a physical and a criminal background check. Firefighters must enroll in a state certification course called Firefighter I, which entails roughly 144 hours of instruction. EMS staff must complete certification for Emergency Medical Technician – Basic, a minimum of 110 training hours.
On-call staff also must attend 16 of 24 trainings the department offers annually. Firefighters must respond to at least 5 percent of all calls – an average of one a week. EMS staff members cover at least one or two 12-hour shifts a week. Generally they also complete a weekend shift a month.
“On one hand, we really want people,” Morton said. “On the other hand, people have to be eyes wide open. We have so many standards to meet.”
Morton said it’s been a few years since the department has done an aggressive recruitment campaign. Three new people have signed on each of the last two years, split equally between fire and EMS.
While the on-call roster has about 30 people on it, including both fire and EMS staff, only two-thirds of those people are active, Morton said. The need for staff grows as the number of calls increases. When Borah started, for example, the department responded to roughly 70 or 80 calls a year, he said; now the department responds to more than 700.
Incentives include payment – base pay is $8 per hour with higher pay for higher levels of certification and equipment knowledge – and a nice facility in which to work, Morton said. Borah said having excellent equipment means staff do their work as safely as is possible.
For Borah, one incentive has kept him “helping out” for 15 years:
“It instills a really good feeling about what you’re doing and what you’re doing for people.”