Isabella Fire and Rescue relies on well-trained volunteers

Published 11:00 am Saturday, January 13, 2018

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

Volunteer firefighters are crucial to keeping Chilton County safe.

“Every department in the county is volunteer, just like us, except for Clanton, Jemison and Thorsby,” Brent Conway, Isabella Volunteer Fire and Rescue fire chief, said.

Each of these volunteer firefighters have other jobs. Many have careers not related to firefighting at all, but have stepped up to help the community.

At Isabella Volunteer Fire and Rescue, volunteers need no previous experience, but they must be 18 years old or older.

Conway said the department will provide the basic training needed. Ongoing training is also required each week.

Volunteers are encouraged to take a 160-hour firefighter course as soon as possible, Conway said.

The course cost $160. Conway said volunteers pay for the course upfront and are reimbursed when they receive certification. Usually one course per year is offered in Chilton County. The course could be taught at one of the volunteer fire stations or at LeCroy Career Technical Center.

Hazmat awareness operations and emergency care provider classes are usually taught alongside this course.

Two of the Isabella volunteers have recently completed these courses.

Additional training is also encouraged, such as the Firefighter 2 class and EMT skills, which are sometimes offered in Chilton County.

Some regional colleges also offer the course. Conway said the cost is $700.

Conway said most of the courses in the county are offered at night to be available to the most people.

“We try to make it fun, and I think most of our guys really enjoy it and think it’s rewarding … We try to make things as simple as we can and run as smooth (as possible),” Conway said.

Additional opportunities are in the works for Isabella to offer non-certification courses at the station through an agreement with the Alabama Fire College.

Landon Lowery, a teacher at Isabella High School and volunteer with IFR, is the training captain for the station.

Lowery said his first response as a volunteer was after the 2011 tornadoes in Maplesville.

“It’s just my way of giving back to the community,” Lowery said.

After completing his Firefighter I and II certification, Lowery took courses to become a certified instructor.

“With me being an educator already, I figured I could use my skills as a teacher to transfer that knowledge not only for our members, but I work at the career tech center, so that opened us possibilities of teaching some night classes,” Lowery said.

He said he enjoys teaching people how to be safe and help others.

When a call comes in, there are multiple ways that volunteers are notified, including pager, text and Active911 cellphone app.

“I think there is a misconception because people think we stay here and people think we get paid, and we don’t,” Conway said.

Conway said the app allows volunteers to indicate whether or not they are available to respond to the call.

Medical calls account for the majority of the Isabella station’s responses.

To ensure response to a fire when a limited number of volunteers may be available, stations work with neighboring departments, so that two stations are always dispatched at the same time.

If more firefighters are needed, additional departments are called in.

This cooperative response was seen during response to a fire at a local business on Jan. 6 when Fairview and Cedar Grove volunteer fire stations responded with Isabella.

“Our guys … did a great job,” Conway said. “I’m very thankful for all our members and the other departments willing to come help.”

Some firefighters start at a volunteer station to gain experience before launching their career at a paying station. This is the case for Colby Ramsey.

“I had an interest in becoming a career fireman, so I knew volunteering would give me a taste of the fire service,” Ramsey said. “And if I did like it, it would give me good experience.”

Ramsey has completed his studies at the Fire Academy in Prattville and is attending paramedic classes.

“He paid for that out of his pocket, and we supplied him the equipment … but he did that on his own,” Conway said.

Ramsey said being a volunteer means less time at home.

“You just never know when a call is going to come,” Ramsey said. “You just try to answer whenever you can, whenever you’re available.”

Lowery said January has been busy for the department, which means volunteers have had to deal with less personal time and sleep.

Conway said a good volunteer is someone that is honest, dependable and committed.

Isabella needs additional volunteers to better serve the community. Those interested can contact the station at (205) 755-9636. Conaway said potential volunteers should leave a message if no one picks up, and he will return the call.