Humans created fire between 300,000 to 400,000 years ago. A manmade fire was discovered in a cave in Israel and records trace it back to that timeframe.
Fast forward to the mid 1700s, when Ben Franklin founded the Union Fire Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It’s said to be the first volunteer fire company of its kind in the country. A plethora of fire departments in North America are still mostly volunteer, including our own fire department in Cordova.
Firefighters, or “a person whose job is to extinguish fires” and first responders, are extremely important parts of the fabric of society. They protect us from dangerous threats, save lives and put their own safety on the line.
The Cordova Volunteer Fire Department, founded in 1904, is made up of a group of resolute men and women that work hard and do their part to keep our community safe.
The CVFD, supported by the City of Cordova and the Cordova Volunteer Fire Department Organization (non-profit), has two fire stations that service an area of 72 square miles. The department is led by Fire Chief Mike Hicks and Deputy Fire Chief Paul Trumblee. The cast, including volunteer and staff firefighters and medics, provide 24/7 fire and ambulance services to the community.
We recently spent a day with the fire department, learning about the ins and outs of serving and protecting the community.
The group started the day with an informal meeting or “tail board talk,” to discuss the agenda and department needs. It’s a family feel all around.
The fire station in town holds lots of equipment to assist in EMS and firefighting efforts. The repertoire includes fire engines armed with technical tools (with Capt. Phillips at the helm of Engine 3); a harbor response vehicle (also known by the nickname Cupcake) which is utilized as a primary fire suppression apparatus for the harbor; an ambulance; ATVs for land-based emergencies and a heavy-duty jet ski (Water 1) for water rescues. A couple of staff members recently received open-water scuba certification and dry suit certification to increase the departments capabilities with rescue efforts.
The department are also the primary hazmat responders and provide search and rescue support. The fire station houses emergency dispatch and office spaces for admin and classes, among other things. A common misconception might be that every fire house has the classic fire pole, but these days it’s only present in multi-story buildings, said shared firefighter/medic Lt. Chris Iannazzone.
The firefighter suits and gear are situated neatly in open air lockers, ready at a second’s notice to be used to respond to an emergency. Staff and volunteers are always learning and training to stay at the top of their game.
“We train 90% of the time for that 10% (emergencies) we want to be perfect when we need to be. Fighting a fire is a lot of work. Holding the hose (we just did some nozzle training last week) at 150 psi (which is kind of a minimum operating on a fire) you’re using your whole body, you’ve got you gear on, you’ve got your pack with 60 pounds of weight on you, all the pressure from the hose, it can get tough,” said Iannazzone.
On October 20, the “Great Alaska Shakeout” occurs, and Lt. Iannazzone shared how CVFD will participate in the event.
“The largest earthquake drill is happening on October 20th; the entire state does it. At 10:20 a.m. we will be simulating an earthquake drill…we encourage the whole town to take place in it. Since we are in the Inundation Zone (tsunami zone), we will take all our vehicles and get them up there (to the school) and any necessary equipment that we feel we would need during that event, including generators,” said Iannazzone.
The fire department is currently participating in public education and talks with grades K-6, as October is Fire Prevention month.
“We aren’t here to scare you; we are here to help you out,” said Lt. Cody Handley, who hopes the kids identify firefighters as friendly entities there to help.
“We put on all our fire gear and air packs and masks for them,” continued Handley.
“We are stressing fire drills and fire escape plans; I give them homework to build a fire escape plan with their parents,” said Iannazzone.
Being in this field is demanding and challenging. In recognition of those factors, the importance of mental health is important to the CVFD, and staff practice and encourage exercise and mindful practices like yoga to help decompress from a sometimes high-stress gig.
“You must be careful not to get burnt out…it can be a bit overwhelming at times. Mental health should be a priority focus because of the line of work we are in. We are starting to see that shift. One of our medics is headed to an EMS symposium, and she will be teaching a mental first aid course which she will be bringing back here for us, which is great,” expressed Iannazzone.
Deputy Fire Chief Trumblee got an introduction to the firefighting world by a classmate and has been involved ever since. Getting to “play with fire engines and wear cool gear,” made it intriguing, expressed Trumblee.
“I have been doing it close to 35 years in emergency services: 20 of those years with the CVFD, 15 are with the City of Cordova. There have been life changing moments at times. We are here to serve; that’s what I get out of it,” beamed Trumblee.
Volunteerism in the firefighting world makes up a large part of that community. The CVFD relies largely on good natured folks to keep the department thriving.
Lt. Iannazzone and staff hope to get grant funding in the near future to be able to afford a larger stipend for volunteer efforts.
“The volunteers do so much, there is no amount of appreciation you can show. We are trying to take care of our members: what they want and what they need,” said Iannazzone.
To volunteer with the department and help support the community or for more information, visit the website: https://www.cityofcordova.net/cordova-volunteer-fire-dept/.