Fire Corps Reaches Milestone

Thursday, 25 August 2011

By Kenny Green, Rowlett Lakeshore Times

The Rowlett Fire Corps program provides rehab and other support services to public safety personnel at major incidents throughout the city of Rowlett. The program recently reached a milestone of 100 calls for service over their nine year history.

"The started back in 2002 by fire chief Larry Wright. It was known then as Citizens Assisting Public Safety because the fire corps wasn't a federal program then. A group of 20 of us started the program," said Whitney Lanning, Rowlett Citizen Corps Council president. "Chief Wright had a vision that this would become a seed group for a future CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) program. In Jan. 2003 we started the CERT group."

The fire corps program has now performed 100 Calls for Service and donated a total of 3,595 service hours in the 9 years and 2 months it has existed. The calls have been for a variety of incidents including 75 structure fires, six major brush fires, seven police actions such as barricade, crime scene and search activities and 12 other calls such as gas leaks, extrication, vehicle fire, investigation and MCI.

"The first call was a 3-alarm stable fire at the Rowlett Stables. We handled that incident with a couple of coolers and six people," Lanning said. "Today we have a membership of 36 people. They rotate on four shifts so each person is only on-call one week at a time."

The longest stretch between calls for the group is 119 days, but the average time between calls is 31 days.

"We have such a good relationship with Rowlett Fire Rescue that we self deploy. When there is a structure fire we usually show up within 30 minutes. They have come to rely on us for that," Lanning said.

 Lanning said that the main function of the fire corps is to provide rehab.

"We provide [responders] with Gatorade, water and other types of drinks. If they are there a while we will get them lunch or dinner," Lanning said. "All of our rehab services follow the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) guidelines."

He added that one of the most common things they do is roll hoses.

"At the end of a fire they are really tired. We give them a hand so they can get back in service quicker," Lanning said.

In 110 months of continuous operation, Fire Corps expenses are just under $8,400. This means that for basic ongoing operations the program needs $77 per month to respond to calls for service. The program owns approximately $16,000 in assets including a trailer and rehab equipment. Approximately 33 percent of the equipment was purchased using DHS Citizen Corps Program grant funding. The remaining equipment was purchased using private and corporate donations.

"We actually used normal fundraising to start the program. When we started grant money was only available for CERT. Several local merchants help us do fundraisers to support the program. In 2005 the Citizen Corps adopted fire corps as one of its programs and we were able to get federal funding," Lanning said. "We get a lot of donations from the public for bottled water. We have a mailing list and ask everyone on it to buy an extra case of water when they go to the grocery store. That keeps us pretty well supplied with water. We also rely on corporate donations and the city helps us out with some funding. We mostly use the Citizen Corps grants for big ticket items that we usually wouldn't be able to get like misting fans."

The last item the group bought with grant funding were a set of cooling vests.

"They have proven to be very effective in the extreme Texas heat," Lanning said.

Since 2006, Fire Corps members have individually contributed $25 each year to offset the cost of supplies and minor equipment purchases.

"The money is volunteer dues. It is not a condition of membership. The group decided themselves that they wanted to do that. It costs around $1,000 a year to run the program. To help offset that the group decided to contribute $25 per year per person. This contribution takes care of 75 percent of the cost of the program. It essence it makes the program sustainable," Lanning said.

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