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#One: Paradise Valley Fire Department

When I was approached recently by a local Valley guy, Bryan Wells, to write about our Valley Fire Fighters, I got quick flashbacks of a few articles I’d written around them over the past 10 years...and felt again the awe, fondness, gratitude, and fun. Here follows a sketch from the day it all started:

I had written a story about the free Thanksgiving potluck Feast offered the valley community by former Fire Chief Chef Greg Coleman when he was owner of The Rambling Rose Restaurant on Murphy Rd. [I bet he heard “you jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire...” 600 times.] One summer day in 2013 I asked for an interview and showed up at the station. I asked him to take a picture of me with the firetruck and he pulled a serious face and agreed, but in exchange, I had to become a volunteer. I said “yeah, gulp, sure!” So I went to the next 7 pm, Wed. night regular meeting. I saw our volunteer firemen in training and practice; many of which were our friends and acquaintances, operating equipment, hoses, nobs and levers on the water truck so fast and focused! Chief Greg noticed my wide eyed stare and said: “there are other areas in which to help, too, Joyce: the annual Firemen’s Ball, and the Pancake breakfast and stuff around the office.” [Phew!]

My contribution ended up to be just the humble scribbles of the village scribe, but I danced the Texas Two-step for the first time ever!... with Bob Smith, at the Fireman’s Ball at Chico Hot Springs!...where by the way dogs are still welcome to bring their owners. A brief said, “There were wonderful hors d'oeuvres especially appreciated by a Golden that roamed around like a furry train mingling with guests, getting pats,... and not just an occasional Swedish meatball.”

Emigrant Peak Complex Wildfire of September 2013 was my first big column piece for the PCCJournal. My husband Ron saw the lightning hit the peak that started that fire. The Forest Service created a tent city headquarters with helicopters coming and going on a plateau up Six Mile Rd, south of Emigrant. Ron and I went up there. It reminded me of a MASH unit with choppers coming and going. They must have scooped up those giant buckets of water at Daily lake. Our firemen held public meetings during that time at the station, explaining how they managed the fire. They used a cool, realistic-seeming digital big screen called a “living map.” The article I wrote regarding that wildfire, with a picture of the camp and our guide, and me under a spot of welcome rain can be read online at the Journal’s team/archive section:

The Present Paradise Valley Volunteer Firefighters: Friday, July 15. It was clear, pristine and so lushly green; not a single car in sight, which is bliss, as I drove down East River to the home of Michael Carasia, Deputy Fire Chief... and his wife Laura. I wasn’t watching the mile markers on the road, I so enjoyed the views,...but magically arrived without getting lost, and was taken to the back porch that looked out at the calm flowing Yellowstone river. “Hey there’s an eagle! No, osprey.” said Michael as a big bird flew by,... on cue. Then as though he read my thoughts, Michael pointed straight down over our feet to the edge of the porch and said “by the way, that’s were the flood came to,..and stopped.” [Phew!]

Deputy Chief Michael carried on the lineage of being a former chef, (as well as chief, it’s borderline funny if you ask me.) He was chef/owner of Yellowstone Mine, attached to The Best Western for twenty years in Gardener where he, by the way, one night fed about 100 firemen, without reservations,...(steak and all the fixins)...during the Tom Miner fire of 2012. But the story doesn’t start there. He is from NJ where he was a fireman beginning at 18! and later the Chief, a three-generation tradition—his dad, and granddad too. So lets see, pan/fire/chief/chef….No wonder he is such fun to chat with. He has been five years here in the Valley Volunteer Fire Dept. We shared a few words of gratitude for our valley, but, then the inevitable reality had to surface: That the rich green you see everywhere now can quickly turn dry and brown...and become fire/lightning fuel.

A very brief intro of the four men who run the show: Chief Mike Story, who could not be more multi-generation local Montanan unless he was a bear; and Deputy Chef-Chief Michael, Ancestral Fire Fighter. There are two captains: 6-year serving Billy Watson of Emergency Medical and Eric Newhouse, who has been around forever seems like, is the Fire Captain.

Oddly, there is still 27 volunteer fire fighters, unchanged number for several decades though they come and go. They are all on call 24/7 in case you didn’t know. And when called, its all hands on deck. Most have walkie/talkies. Just to be thoroughly informative, and to make you blink, they are paid $5 per “call.” In recent years the Paradise Valley Rural Fire Dept. has drawn retired firemen into the organization from all over the country. It’s impressive, and local pride-stimulating, if you ask me, but not a surprise. We are big and have big fires here, (I can witness to that,) and in-between, well, it’s not called Paradise for nothing.

Training is intensive and there is a formal kind of tough boot camp you can go to in Wyoming. But it is, never the less, ongoing work of our Fire Dept. to maintain training for fire fighting and for many ongoing needs, changes and even our goofy but serious emergencies. For instance I tripped over the garden hose about 8 years ago, and couldn’t be touched or lifted up. The fire dept.’s medic responders came and the young medic said, “by the angle of your foot, looks like it could be a broken hip, mam.” I said “Naw, it always looks like that”….but by then the I.V. had kicked in and I was on the ground talking to my husband’s socks. It was a fractured hip despite what the socks said.

Road Emergencies -Volunteers are trained in auto accident rescue, and recently how to deal with the different problems (big voltage lines) and potential electrocution spots on Electric cars involved in accidents; also extrication (sometimes complex removal of victims from vehicles), and the priority medical responses that save lives. These incidents require training of volunteers to take control of traffic too. A recent acquisition is two large electronic road signs, seen on Hwy 89 lately to inform us of road construction which is greatly helpful to detour traffic to E. River Rd, and to identify the nature of emergency, and warn of long waiting periods on the road. It can be edited any time to read changing conditions or warnings. They cost a bundle but will earn it. Just in regards to equipment costs, and to make your eyes pop, those fireman’s tough working outfits cost about $5,000 each. Deputy Chief Michael said lighter weight fire resistant fabrics have been invented in recent years that are far less hot than our heroes had to wear previously.

Input from Brian Wells (60 yr Valley resident, and Volunteer Fireman)... who I here bust as the self appointed, community-serving, fun & only mayor of Old Chico: He addresses our readers here: “It has been over 40 years since the all-volunteer Emigrant/Paradise Valley fire service was formed. In the beginning each household in the fire district was taxed $60 per year to support the Fire Dept. That tax has never gone up, and the board has never asked for a special levy. We have a five person board that oversees the Fire Dept. and the tax payer’s money. All these years our board has been fiscally responsible with a great deal of respect for the peoples money. They do not spend money they don't have—which is unusual these days. The facility and equipment we have are top notch and it is all paid for!! We also have a firefighters association that is separate from the board. The association creates fundraiser events such as the Fireman's Ball every year the Saturday following Thanksgiving. The money that is raised goes toward buying equipment for the Dept. The Paradise Valley Fire Department is an organization with an amazing Board and Firefighters Association. As citizens and tax payers of the fire district we are fortunate to have such a well-run Fire Department!!”

[And so it is.]

“The Volunteers do a little bit of everything needed around the station,” Michael said, “and have a community-building attitude.” The Aug. 1 NATIONAL NIGHT OUT, free ice cream/small hose demonstration and yes, firetruck inspection by kids, which I hope got a great local turnout, is for friends, neighbors and families to get to know their Fire Fighters and Emergency Responders, who are infact your friends and neighbors!. Another helpful service they provide is that you can request a free visit to your home by our Firemen to check your woodburner for safe efficiency; or your property for helpful hints about clearing dry brush or tree fall which is how you can help with fire prevention. All activity is documented. Reports need to be written and filed and also put into the computer. Wives of Volunteers have a committee called very cleverly, the “Fire Belles.” Michael’s wife, Laura says the ladies help with fundraising, event planning, collecting donations, art and other items for the auction at the Fireman’s Ball. And I would imagine pick up not just a few of the chores around the station. The Annual Fireman’s Ball is the star in that it recognizes and celebrates the many years our fire fighter’s service. Paradise has a price I think. Nature is in charge here, but unsung heroes must rise to manage and counter, bravely, her destructive cycles, and our many human emergencies. What kind of heart do these volunteers have? They are like super big brothers, our hugely needed, unsung Heroes.


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