Fire volunteers are needed and welcome
Kenwood, Glen Ellen, Mayacamas can all use new people
While Kenwood and Glen Ellen fire departments are moving to paid staff, along with every other rural fire department in Sonoma County, there are never enough volunteers to provide top staffing levels, according to Kenwood Fire Captain Scott Meyer, who recruits volunteers for the department.
Being a fire volunteer is not as simple as it once was. The work requires training and continued classes to build teamwork and constantly improve and expand skills and working knowledge of a very complex business – saving lives and fighting fires.
Volunteer Captain Ben Gulson, 48, has been with Kenwood Fire Department almost all of his life. He is the son of Richard Gulson who was a dispatcher before the 9-1-1 system was installed. Gulsongrew up in Kenwood, attending Kenwood Elementary School, Slater Junior High, and graduated from Cardinal Newman. He lives in Kenwood with his wife and two daughters who attend Kenwood School. He is a paid professional Engineer/Paramedic for the Sonoma Valley Fire & Rescue Authority, currently stationed in Glen Ellen.
Moving toward having a paid, professional staff is one thing, but “I hope people don’t think we don’t need volunteers any more. We need people who know what to do and are willing to make a commitment,” said Gulson.
Gulson began working as a volunteer at the Kenwood Fire Department and then worked part-time in Sonoma. That turned into a career move when he became a medic. He joined Valley of the Moon Fire Department in the early 2000s, and since then “I have worked at all the stations,” Gulson said, “downtown Sonoma, Agua Caliente, but not at Schellville.”
When he first became a fire volunteer in 1988, Sonoma Valley ran its own training academy, three or four months long.
“We had 30-plus volunteers back then, spread out age-wise from their 20s to 50s,” Gulson recalled. “The town demographics were totally different. Calls were medical aids and fire alarms, wrecks on the highway. Call volume has gone up a little bit, but hasn’t doubled or tripled. The main difference today is who lives in town, who can make a commitment to the community.
Kenwood is aiming to have two drills a month, four or five hours a drill, Gulson said. “The initial thing is getting [recruits] to a place where we can be comfortable asking them to come aboard as a volunteer.”
“I never have been the kind of person who wants to see blood and guts, but I got over it because I want to help the community. When October 2017 rolled around, that was for sure the catalyst. I had a gut feeling watching the community go up in flames and not being able to do anything about it,” said current volunteer David Komar.
Komar, 37, was born and raised in Glen Ellen and lives in the Kenwood village today with his wife and two children. He spent his middle school years in Colorado, but has been in Sonoma County ever since, attending Sonoma High School and Santa Rosa Junior College, and graduating from Cal Poly with a degree in fruit science (read, ‘“grapes”).
Komar doesn’t consider himself a “natural” firefighter.
Right after the fires, Komar started talking with Chief Daren Bellach about what it takes to be a volunteer. He signed up, along with Jason Kunde and Joe Platt, and attended the volunteer academy, along with others from Sonoma Valley.
Komar is proud to be a firefighter today. “I help pull hoses, aim the nozzle, cut hand lines – cutting vegetation for a fire break.”
He remembers his first call as an active volunteer: “It was a medical call… about a mile down Highway 12. We were going Code 3 (sirens) down the highway with all my turnout gear on, thinking ‘This is not a drill.’” The call was canceled before they got there, but it wasn’t long before the real thing happened.
“That was a 14-acre brush fire near Madrona Manor in Healdsburg. I went in a water tender with Captain Jack Ayers. I got my feet wet.” Ayers is in charge of training volunteers for KFPD.
Komar has a successful vine grafting business – Top-Notch Vineyard & Grafting Services – that dovetails nicely with his volunteer work. He has a Class A equipment operating license for his work and hopes to step it up a notch to drive fire equipment.
“In spring and summer, I don’t have as much time to devote to the fire department,” Komar said. “I try to make up for when I’m not able to participate.”
Fortunately, volunteering has a flexible work schedule. “I try to do a couple of sleeper shifts a month at the station. Beyond that, it’s pretty much drill once a week and responding to calls as you are available. You are not expected to make every call or even meet a quota, but I go as often as I can.”
The new volunteer has a lot of respect for his fellow firefighters.
“Being active in the last year, I realize how much they have sacrificed as volunteers for so long. I’d like to thank them for paving the way. I’m proud to be working next to guys like that.”
Who you gonna call?Captain Scott Meyers, 833-2042, is in charge of recruiting volunteers and welcomes inquiries at any time. Regardless of which district you want to know more about – Kenwood, Mayacamas, Schell-Vista, or Sonoma Valley (which includes Glen Ellen), he can put you in touch with the right people to answer your questions.
Kenwood FPD: 833-2042
Mayacamas VFD: 360-7712
Schell-Vista FPD: 938-2633
Sonoma Valley FRA: 996-2102