Fire department kicks off volunteer drive

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The Craig Rural Fire Protection District is looking for a few good men and women.

But those interested should prepare themselves for huge time sacrifices, a year's worth of tests, background checks and training before they can call themselves firefighters. And keep Thursday nights open.

"When I came on, they said you're going to pretty much have to give up Thursday nights for the rest of your fire career," said Roy Mason, chief of the local fire district.

This month, the fire district is holding a volunteer recruitment drive. Mason said the department is not looking for a specific number of rookies, but daytime help is critical, with many current staff tied up at full-time jobs at Trapper Mine, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, or in Steamboat Springs.

"We're stressed during the daytime," said Mason, who also is the owner of Moffat County Lumber.

Prospective firefighters must fill out applications available at the department located at 419 Yampa Ave. Applicants must have a valid Colorado driver's license and submit to driving and criminal background checks. They also must be at least 18 years of age but there is no maximum age limit, provided that candidates can perform, and pass, various agility tests.

The job-related skills include handling fire hoses, and hauling bunker gear and packs, Mason said.

Candidates also must live within the 180-square-mile area covered by the district, which extends north to about Black Mountain Road, east to the rest area between Craig and Hayden, south to Hamilton and to Western Knolls.

A four-to-five member committee will determine who moves on to a one-year probationary status, effective in January, Mason said, adding physical exams are also needed.

"It's a year in which we adjust to them and see if they're going to fit in our group," Mason said. "Some people are just not cut out for it. An individual will spend a lot of time in rookie classes, learning trucks and our standard operating procedures."

Training, various certifications and classes on issues from sexual harassment to contagious diseases, keep trainees busy, he said.

"You can tell their rookie year if their going to make it or not," Mason said. "If they get through that, they'll be OK."

Thursday nights, depending on the week, are reserved for maintenance on buildings, training, or staff- or rule-board meetings.

Completion of the probationary period is necessary before earning status as a firefighter.

After that, time management is key to staying on the force, said Chris Nichols, deputy chief of the Craig department, who fights fires when he's not running McDonald's in Craig and Steamboat Springs.

"It's a balancing act," Nichols said. "Your family and full-time jobs are the most important part of your life, and somewhere behind is the fire department."

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