Volunteer firefighters provide vital aid to staff _lowres

Photo provided by Sharon Phillips -- The Zachary Rotary Club welcomed volunteer firefighter Jordan Charlet and Chief of Volunteer Operations Michael Kimble May 28. Gathered, from left, are Rotary member Terry Gomez, Charlet, Kimble and Rotary President-elect Mindy Head.

The Zachary Volunteer Fire Department was initially formed in 1931 with a full staff, but as more career firefighters were hired, the volunteer department dwindled, Chief of Volunteer Operations Michael Kimble said.

“In 2004, the volunteer department was reorganized, starting with five personnel, but that number quickly grew to 20 within a year,” Kimble said while speaking to the Zachary Rotary Club in May. “Since then, we’ve never gone below 20 firefighters.”

As of 2015, 27 volunteer personnel work at the ZVFD — 16 are firefighters and 11 are support personnel. Six of those are volunteer command staff, which includes an operations chief and five captains.

“Our volunteers are as equally qualified as our career staff,” Kimble said of the 26 men and one woman who make up the volunteer department. “They hold full-time jobs in other professions, some of them as firefighters for other fire departments, while others are employed as construction workers, local business owners, mechanics, office and salespeople, paramedics or truck drivers. We come from all walks of life but we all volunteer for one cause: saving lives.”

Kimble himself comes from a firefighting family — his father is Zachary Fire Chief Danny Kimble, and his brother, Capt. Adam Kimble, is a volunteer firefighter.

According to records, in 2014, a total of 2,462 calls came into the ZFD, and of those, about 390 calls required volunteer notification.

“We put in 769 hours responding to emergency calls and 1,820 hours training. Those hours were dedicated strictly to firefighting training, but numerous other hours are put in by volunteers attending department meetings, fulfilling hours at the station and attending community events when and where needed,” Kimble said. “We’re very fortunate to have the people we do donate their time to help when they can, especially since calls come in day and night, in various weather conditions and on holidays.”

To help with the cost of maintaining volunteer needs, in 1989, a board of directors for the volunteer department was formed and tasked with organizing annual fundraisers.

Kimble said that through an annual mail-out to citizens asking for donations, and cooking fundraisers at the Zachary Arts and Music Festival and city and school events, about $20,000 is raised every year that helps pay for needed gear.

“It helps pay for certain items but doesn’t nearly cover the entire cost of everything we need,” he said.

Gear purchased annually that’s nonspecific to firefighters are radios and pagers, nozzles, iPads for trucks to assist with preplanning and call responses, elevator keys, communications for phones and rescue equipment.

Other needed firefighting equipment includes a helmet, hood, coat, pants, boots, gloves, portable radio and pager, totaling $8,000.

Volunteers who have reached Firefighter 1 certification are required to attend certification courses and training, operate at the scene of any emergency and carry a pager 24 hours a day. They train every Tuesday in Zachary and participate in company, hazardous materials, officer and driver training exercises. They’re also expected to attend drills at West Feliciana Fire Protection District 1 in St. Francisville.

“Members that have not obtained Firefighter 1 certification are considered support staff and assist with different functions on the ground but play a very important role within our organization,” Kimble said.

Personnel who train for rescues above or below the ground prepare monthly and are assigned to the Louisiana Task Force-2 Urban Search and Rescue team. Their roles are defined as rescue technicians and rescue support members, and they are part of Zachary Fire and Rescue, which includes both career and volunteer staff, Kimble explained.

Others volunteer as fire investigators and are responsible for determining the origin and causes of fires. Kimble said they’re certified fire investigators who are commissioned by the Zachary Police Department or the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office.

In the event a fire is ruled as arson, the investigators work alongside law enforcement to help make arrests and prosecute through the judicial system. Zachary fire investigators include one career and two volunteer firefighters.

“It takes dedication to make this all work, and every single one of our members have to make sacrifices at a moment’s notice,” Kimble said. “There aren’t many fire departments in the area that have a volunteer staff like we do.”