Growing up a fire captain’s daughter, I spent my fair share of time in a fire station, so the infamous air raid siren at PUC that blasts everyday at noon wasn’t anything new or startling to me when starting school. Unlike my fellow classmates, who covered their ears and quickly looked around worried, I didn’t even notice it. I had never lived less than five miles from a fire station, so the siren was a strange comfort to me being away from home for the first time.
So imagine my reaction when later that year, the alarm went off while I was sitting in my English class, unfazed. Wrong! As one of my classmates jumped up from his desk, letting his chair crash behind him as he bolted out the door and down the hall, I was shocked. It wasn’t until that moment I realized a large percentage of the Angwin Volunteer Fire Department was made up of students. The thought never crossed my mind, since I was pretty sure you needed to be an adult to run into a burning building to save a life—and there was the epiphany: this was college, we were adults!
Having the ability to volunteer at the Angwin fire station is something pretty unique about PUC. This week I sat down with J.R. Rogers, Director of Recruitment at PUC, who has volunteered with the AVFD for over 11 years. He serves as Captain in command of the Truck Company and also Officer in Charge of Fleet and Logistics. I asked him a few questions about being a member of the fire department and how it helped change his life and his time at PUC.
Q: Why should someone join the fire department?
A: It’s a great way to serve the community around you and to expand your skill base. You get a lot of hands on training both in the fire and medical world that you get to use to help others. These skills will serve you for the rest of your life. It’s a pretty powerful thing to be able to help those in quite possibly some of the worst situations and time of need.
Q: What skills will I learn if I join?
A: The Angwin Fire is an all hazard and all risk department, which means we respond to everything. We teach you how to work with and mitigate situations involving fire, hazardous materials, vehicle accidents, plane crashes, water emergencies, and medical emergencies. Many of these skills are life skills you can put into use when things like this happen in your personal life as well.
Q: Is it hard to volunteer and go to school?
A: Not at all. In fact, over half the department is PUC students. You are a volunteer, which means we ask that you come whenever possible, but understand if you are unable to respond. You’re given a pager and when it goes off you respond to the station. Most teachers at PUC are fine with you leaving class for a call. At the beginning of each quarter, I would go up to each of my teachers at the first class and let them know I was a member of the fire department. I asked if it was okay if I left for calls and that I wouldn’t leave during quizzes, presentations, or tests. I think I only had one teacher that preferred I didn’t.
Q: How do I join the fire department?
A: If you go to www.angwinfire.com/join, you will find the application and instructions on other documents needed and you can bring them to the firehouse in person (you’re guaranteed to find us there the 1st and 3rd Monday nights from 7-10 pm) or mail it to the PO Box listed on the application letter.
Q: How many hours per week does volunteering take up?
A: It varies. We have a three hour drill every other Monday and trainings as assigned by your company officer, in addition to the calls you respond to. A typical medical aid, which is the majority of what we respond to, takes about an hour. The fire academy we put you through is every Wednesday, with some Mondays and Sundays, for six months.
Q: Should I join the department even if I’m not interested in a degree in Emergency Services?
A: Volunteering with the fire department is something you want to be passionate about doing. If it’s something you don’t believe in, it’s a lot of work and personal risk and being a firefighter isn’t a title that you get, it’s one you earn. The medical side is something we do often and has varying degrees of certification but everyone is trained in at least first aid.
Q: What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned as a volunteer?
A: I have really learned so much I can’t pick just one. Leadership, accountability, resourcefulness, and being a team player are just a few things I’ve learned that have played into my everyday life. Other useful skills like fire knowledge, medical skills, and hazarding identification that also find their way into my days. You really see the world with new eyes.
Q: Do you remember your first call?
A: Definitely. It was a wildland fire in Pope Valley on Barnett Road the day after I graduated. I was the only one from my class that made it to the call. We worked for about six hours cutting hand line alongside a bulldozer to contain the fire. Just as we were getting the fire encircled, it created its own weather system and it began to hail and then rain, which ultimately helped us. There are a lot more stories along with that single incident but I learned a lot on my first call.
Q: Will I be able to drive the fire truck?
A: If you’re on the department long enough and you put forth the effort and time to learn your job as a firefighter, and then you train to become an operator – yes, you can eventually drive a fire engine or truck. You have to learn your first job and do it well to be able to take on a second.
As you may have heard in the news recently, there were several large fires in the Napa Valley and surrounding areas. Thankfully, CalFire and many other departments from around the state were able to contain and extinguish them, and we’re incredibly proud to say our very own Angwin Volunteer Fire Department was part of those efforts!