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Los Pinos ramping up volunteer firefighting program

Ty Matthys, a volunteer with Los Pinos Fire Protection District, carries a fire hose into the fire tower Tuesday during a training exercise in Ignacio.
Mill levy increase allows fire district to expand services

At the Los Pinos Fire Protection District, volunteers are gearing up to expand much-needed emergency services for communities around Ignacio.

In November, residents in the 325-square-mile district voted to raise their property taxes in an effort to keep the district financially afloat. At the time, district staff members estimated Los Pinos could run out of savings in two to four years without some kind of new revenue.

After locating a training dummy in a smoke-filled fire tower, Ty Matthys, a volunteer with Los Pinos Fire Protection District, carries the dummy away Tuesday during a training exercise in Ignacio.

One way the district promised to use the money, if approved, was to pay for volunteer program costs. The district’s revamped volunteer program is meant to fulfill that commitment.

“The mill levy created an opportunity to formalize the program and bring in an officer level admin to administer the program,” said Scot Davis, battalion chief and volunteer program coordinator. “Now, we’re really looking to expand.”

Los Pinos, headquartered in Ignacio, responds to structure and wildland fires, power line issues, gas leaks, heart attacks, car crashes, flooded streets and more. It offers an advanced life-support ambulance service.

But before November, Los Pinos could financial trajectory could force it to drop its ambulance services or replace its career firefighters with volunteers.

more revenue to support staffing and equipment for ambulance and paramedic coverage. And it allowed it to build its volunteer crews.

“This is a large district. We want to get (emergency) response to the surrounding community,” Davis said. “My overall goal would be to provide an opportunity for anyone looking to volunteer with the Los Pinos fire department.”

Deputy Chief Josh Lorenz with Los Pinos Fire Protection District talks with volunteers Edna Tello and Mike Cochran on Tuesday during a fire training exercise in Ignacio.

Davis inherited three volunteers when he started in March. Now the department has five – all Durango residents. His goal is to pull in people who live in the Los Pinos fire district, which spans the southeast part of La Plata County and parts of the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, Archuleta County and northern New Mexico.

Bringing in more wildland-trained volunteers is “priority No. 1,” he said. That means training to handle controlled burns and wildland fires.

“It’s a dry year, and that would be a super helpful position,” Davis said.

About 70% to 80% of the district’s calls relate to medical issues, so Los Pinos is also looking for volunteers interested in the emergency medical service.

Ty Matthys, a volunteer with Los Pinos Fire Protection District, carries a fire hose into the fire tower Tuesday during a training exercise in Ignacio.

But Davis is focused on making it an easy-entry program that can adapt to volunteer interests.

Wildland firefighting does not require intensive training, he said. Medics can take a weeklong emergency medical responder course if they are not able to take an emergency medical technician course, which takes a semester.

If the district had emergency medical responder volunteers in different communities, the volunteers could arrive at incidents quickly, size them up, communicate the situation and then start delivering aid within their training, Davis said.

But the flexibility doesn’t stop there. The district is also creating ambassador and general volunteer roles that could include organizing gear and helping with multimedia needs and online platforms, he said.

Those volunteers would help keep money in the budget for more training, equipment support and staff, Davis said.

“We’re looking for five additional wildland volunteers, an additional five trained as medics and five trained as structure firefighters. We will work with anyone who wants to get multiple certifications,” Davis said. “If we got 40 people, that’d be fantastic.”

People interested in emergency response positions can start with a tour or a ride along. Then they would meet twice a month on Tuesday evenings and can attend weekly trainings via teleconferencing or in-person.

Los Pinos Fire Protection District staff members and volunteers talk Tuesday during a fire training exercise in Ignacio.

Training covers live fire situations, such as structure, vehicle and propane fires; emergency communication; medical topics; water rescues; and other duties in the department.

“I’m super excited, and I’m very optimistic,” Davis said. “I truly believe that people like to give freely their time. I want to create an atmosphere here at Los Pinos Fire where our volunteers are happy, included in the Los Pinos family and able to use their skills.”

smullane@durangoherald.com