BONNERS FERRY — When it comes to protecting communities and the people who live in them, our local fire departments know no boundaries. Help is not only given when needed, but prepared for in advance.
Bonner County’s Northside Fire District hosted a combined training effort in the form of a live burn, and invited South Boundary Fire Protection District to join them on June 22. The training took place on Elmira Road where they had a house that was donated to them to use for multiple training scenarios called evolutions, before it was safely burned all the way to the ground.
The opportunity allowed for the two fire departments to work with one another and build on that teamwork.
“If we get on a fire and recognize another firefighter from a different department, it is good, because then we know what that firefighter’s skill sets are,” said South Boundary Firefighter Wesley Portray.
South Boundary and Northside have had a mutual aid agreement for over 15 years. This can be crucial when most fire departments in this area rely on volunteers to make up their firefighting team.
“This agreement is important in the fact that volunteers have a job to support their families, to raise their families and to be a part of their family’s life,” said Rohrwasser. “After all of that and maybe more they must put a lot of time in to train to be a professional firefighter.”
Rohrwasser said that calls never come when they are expected, so there are times when not all firefighters can respond.
“It is rare to get enough personnel for a structure fire to be effective in a rural environment,” Rohrwasser said. “If we do have too many, we are more than happy to be canceled and go back to what we were doing in the first place.”
According to South Boundary Fire Chief Tony Rohrwasser, the mutual aid between the two neighboring county fire departments has only been activated a few times over the years, but they have recently been seeing more activity.
Mutual aid is an agreement drawn between agencies stating that each agency will help each other when needed, as determined by the Incident Commander on an incident scene. A different version, automatic aid, is when pre-approved apparatus and personnel are dispatched automatically as part of the initial call.
“We do not have auto aid as of yet, still mutual aid, but we plan on an automatic aid for any structure fire as far south as Samuels Road and as far north as Twenty Mile Road,” explained Rohrwasser. “This plan has yet to be presented and approved by both boards and Dispatch Centers.”
For now, training together only benefits the communities in both counties, and the firefighters themselves, who got the chance to know each other better, to better act as a unified team to enhance efficiency and safety.
“We get to know the resources we can expect to receive on a call from our neighbors,” said Rohrwasser. “Running entry drills into fiery conditions helps us to work with, and trust each other in dangerous environments, and that is a big help in crisis situations.”
The training lasted most of the day and Boundary County Chaplain Corp was on hand with their support vehicle, Angel 1, to provide food, drink, and rehabilitation for tired firefighters. Another large component was the donation of the building for their training purposes.
“A very special thanks to Young Living nurseries for their donation of the house and taking care of all of the requirements to meet the criteria to burn,” said Rohrwasser. “I don’t think many people know the costs and time involved to create this kind of training.”
“I would like to say thank you to all South Boundary Fire and Northside Fire personnel from the planning stage, (on such short notice), to the setup and many hours put in/commitment by both departments to prepare this house for the excellent training that took place,” said Northside Fire Chief Brad Mitton. “Thank you again to all South Boundary, Northside Fire personnel that took the time out of their weekend to attend this training. It was well appreciated. It was a pleasure to work with South Boundary Fire.”