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Rural fire station gets a reprieve

BUENA VISTA — The Polk County Fire District No. 1 board of directors listened to the pleas of residents of Buena Vista at its Thursday meeting, held in Buena Vista Station 40.   At its Jan. 23 meeting, the board proposed options for the station’s future: recruit more volunteers, reduce station hours, temporarily close the station, or permanently close it.   The February meeting was held at the Buena Vista station to bring the issue directly to the residents of the affected area.   Charles Prouty of Buena Vista asked the board to consider closing the station during the day Monday through Friday.   “We can put boots on the ground in this station, but are you going to demand we respond during the day?” Prouty asked. “If there’s a fire at night or on the weekend, we can respond.”   Pamela Venegas, also of Buena Vista, echoed Prouty’s statement.   “Take a look around; we’re either pensioners or commuters,” she said. “Staffing has always been a problem in the rural stations, that’s exactly why this station is built how it is: it was built to support sleepers. That’s something I think the fire board is choosing not to fulfill.”   A sleeper is a firefighter who stays at a fire station overnight. For Station 40 to accommodate sleepers, a wall or two would need to be built so they “wouldn’t have to look at each other,” Venegas said.   James Mellein of Buena Vista read from the station’s log book. Most of the calls in the last month have been medical calls, with some motor vehicle accidents and fires.   “Station 40 … is the most heavily accessed or has the most tap outs out of all the rural fire stations,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a lack of activity as far as need, it’s more of a recruitment concern.”   He said the three firefighter volunteers who do work for Station 40 have full-time jobs, but when they are in town, they respond without exception. The station had three volunteers when it was dedicated in 2008, but has room for 12, according to a 2008 story by the Itemizer-Observer.   “It would be harmful for those volunteers who have put years, their blood, sweat and tears, to have their station mothballed,” Mellein said.   The immediate first aid volunteers at Station 40 provide for victims of motor vehicle accidents can not only save lives of motorists and motorcyclists, but save their quality of life, he added.   “This is really uplifting to see this level of support and activity,” Mellein said of the 25 citizens who showed up to the meeting. “Let’s see if we can capitalize it. They breathed a whisper of closing (Station 70 in Pedee), and all of a sudden, we have the biggest recruit academy in history that year.”   Board members agreed.   “By showing us there is a huge interest in this station, it gives us ideas or at least gives us hope that we can muster those volunteers,” said Joost Vanderhave, fire board chairman. Joost Vanderhave   He said the district has two resources: the tax base and human beings.   Daytime participation is tough for all of the district’s 70 or more volunteers, Vanderhave said, but the board could consider modifying schedules to keep Station 40 open.   “We are looking for more participation to make this station a success, because we did invest a lot in the infrastructure,” Vanderhave said. “I think this board is very interested in putting more equipment out here if there are people out here who can run it.”   Interim Fire Chief John Stein said he would look into the possibilities of sleepers at Station 40, and other ways to accommodate the needs of Buena Vista and the fire station, and have those answers at the next meeting.   Vanderhave was so impressed with the turnout at the meeting at Station 40, he decided to hold next month’s board meeting at the Airlie Fire Station 80 and April’s meeting at Pedee Fire Station 70.   In other business:   • The fire board approved going forward with both a bond and a levy in May. If passed, the bond would help replace and repair fire apparatus, such as engines and hose. If passed, the levy would be for operating purposes, but would not include hiring more personnel. The district is looking for volunteers to serve on a steering committee for the bond and levy. “One thing we messed up last time was not getting enough people involved in the process,” Stein said. “I think it would be good to get another set of eyes on it.”   

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