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Westfir’s new volunteer fire chief outlines plan for fire department

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Westfir City Hall Herald photo

Scenario: A call is received over the air that there’s a house fire on High Prairie. Oakridge Fire Department begins to mount up to answer the call. However, Westfir’s (new) Fire Department also received the call. Simple math dictates that, given both agencies leave at the same time, Westfir’s engine will arrive a couple of minutes sooner than Oakridge FD. House fires are figured in minutes. Certainly, Hazeldell has gotten the same call. Hopefully they’ll be the first to respond. However, the second responding agency would start sending tenders with drop tanks. Water would be key in this scenario.

So, who’s leading the charge to assemble volunteers, rolling stock, real estate, and equipment into an all-volunteer fire department?

In charge is a not-so-old retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant

Jim McKee, or “Gunny” to just about anybody who knows him, is as determined a person as any you might have met. He never spoke of possibilities during our interview, only outcomes. “This is going to happen, period,” he quoted. When he looks you in the eye, you see his conviction and determination.

The City of Westfir has enthusiastically agreed to support Gunny’s initial plan to build an all-volunteer fire department. It would seem to be a no-brainer for the City. McKee has a plan. He has decades of experience. He has, seemingly. just about every certification and credential to handle the task. The best part – he’ll be putting all of this together as a volunteer. What’s not to like about that.

McKee expects the Westfir Volunteer Fire Department to be a nonprofit entity under the City of Westfir.

Lots of work ahead

There’s a lot of pieces to his plan. McKee seems to have thought this out, covering every possible detail. Recruiting of volunteers to be  firefighters, training them, and getting them certified at the various levels will be no small task. The Westfir fire truck is currently residing at the Oakridge fire station. Westfir also has dedicated equipment and gear in Oakridge that McKee hopes to transfer back to Westfir at the appropriate time. Once the new fire department is on board, there will most likely be a new inter-agency agreement between Westfir and the other existing departments.

McKee’s time frame? He hopes to have things rolling, literally speaking, within one year. That is also the amount of time that he is planning to volunteer his time to this project.

A fire department without a station house?

As part of his preliminary work, McKee has looked around for a possible site to build a fire station on. His inquiries have turned up some possible locations. He has also alluded that his extensive service has provided him a wealth of contacts around the State. Gunny said he expects to tap these contacts for help.

“Without an engine in Westfir, there’s no possible way to stop a house fire before it burns to the ground. Response time from Oakridge won’t allow for it,” McKee stated emphatically.

Gunny detailed the scenario mentioned earlier for High Prairie. “A Westfir Fire Department will be a win-win for all the surrounding  community” McKee stated. “We’ll be able to cover much of the outlying areas as well as Westfir.”

Other options may be on the horizon

McKee understands that Oakridge is inquiring into the possibility of forming a special fire district with Oakridge, Westfir, and Hazeldell. He indicated that he has yet to hear all the details of this proposal. Therefore, he said he is not going to comment on its viability until he learns more.

Insurance premiums are calculated on anticipated response times for a structure fire. A fire station in or near the City of Westfir could amount to lower insurance costs for Westfir residents and business owners.

Of significance will be knowing that should a structure fire erupt in Westfir, that the Westfir Volunteer Fire Department might be close enough to save it.

Gunny McKee told The Herald that the City of Westfir is accepting donations to help fund this project.



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