Move to improve efficiency |

Move to improve efficiency

Volunteer crew to split into battalions

Jeremy Browning

Craig Fire/Rescue will split into “battalions” when responding to minor calls, after the Craig Rural Fire Protection District board of directors voted Thursday to allow the practice on a “trial basis” for six months.

The fire department was divided into two battalions, which will respond individually to minor calls, including ambulance assist calls, dumpster fires and calls in which a fire alarm sounds, but no smoke or fire is present.

Battalion A and Battalion B will take turns responding to minor calls.

In all major calls, including structure fires, car wrecks requiring extrication, industrial accidents, hazardous materials incidents and all rescues, the entire department will respond to the page, according to Fire Chief Roy Mason.

Mason divided the department in half based on firefighters’ experience and the distance they live from the station, along with other factors.

Each battalion is staffed with an assistant chief, a captain and a lieutenant, in addition to ten firefighters.

The move is an attempt to employ personnel more efficiently and give more firefighters a chance to respond to calls.

Often, the same few firefighters make the first and second trucks responding to a call. As a result, the rest of the crew that responded is left at the station.

“When we get a (minor) call, instead of rolling 26 people, we’ll only roll one battalion,” Mason said.

Also, Mason said less firefighters will be on the road “responding hot” to an emergency, and it will afford the department a cost savings because it will use half as many people on minor calls.

The battalion structure will give all members of the department a chance to use their training and build confidence, Mason said.

It also is an attempt to groom young officers, giving them experience with management tasks, such as commanding a scene, maintaining radio communication, dealing with landowners or occupants, the public, the police and the press.

“Myself, Bill (Johnston) and Chris (Nichols) have been working on this for five years,” Mason said. And as all publicly funded budgets shrink, Mason decided it was a good time to try the battalion structure.

It’s a system widely used by “career” fire departments, Mason said. The fire department in Steamboat Springs uses battalions as well, Mason said.

“It’s not like we reinvented the wheel,” Mason said. “We just applied it to a volunteer department.”

Dispatchers will not change their protocol. Instead, firefighters will determine from the fire page whether to respond as a battalion or as a full department.

Deputy Fire Chief Bill Johnston told the fire board Thursday that the department has practiced for the potentiality that a situation may turn out to be different than it was originally paged. Also, firefighters practiced the “change of command” scenario they will use if a minor call was incorrectly paged or turns into a major situation.

Fire Board Chairman Tom Cotton said it may not always be necessary to change command. Cotton said he remembers when he let younger officers (who now command the department) take charge, under his supervision, so they could gain experience.

Mason said the department will closely monitor the new structure over the next six months to make sure it is beneficial and does not cause any problems.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or

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