Picnic benefits local fire protection | SierraSun.com

Picnic benefits local fire protection

Alisha Wyman

Courtesy photoDonner Summit Fire Protection District is hosting its annual picnic fund-raiser Sunday.

For the volunteers and staff at Donner Summit Fire Station, the organization of the Volunteer Firefighters’ Association’s 19th annual Barbecue and Picnic July 5 is no different than a real “incident,” or emergency. As part of the incident command system, a commander oversees four branches, which oversee others, not unlike the military.

“It’s like a family tree upside down,” said Todd Tremble, the president of the Donner Summit Volunteer Fierfighters’ Association.

But the fund-raiser, which takes place at the Donner Summit Lodge Picnic Grounds in Soda Springs, doesn’t carry the seriousness of real fires, car accidents and rescues.

Volunteers and paid staff of the Donner Summit Fire Station face situations like these year round-with more than 500 calls so far this year, Tremble said. The firefighters are most busy in the winter, with car accidents due to icy road conditions, skiing accidents, avalanches and rescues of people lost in the backcountry.

“We leave in the morning and we don’t see the fire station until night,” Tremble said. While professionals head the fire station, volunteers work “elbow to elbow” with them, logging a minimum of 30 hours per month.

“We’re a team,” he said. “Everybody does a little bit of everything. That’s the beauty of the summit. It’s a very well rounded department.”

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But because of its small size, the Donner Summit Fire Department requires a fund-raiser for training and to purchase safety gear and fire and rescue equipment for volunteers. With the barbecue and picnic, they hope to raise more than $5,000 to help outfit the new brushfire engine the fire station recently bought, Tremble said.

During the picnic, the association will hold a silent auction of two season ski passes at Sugar Bowl, skis and a snowboard from Java Summit Sports and lift tickets from almost every ski resort in the area. Local merchants have donated raffle prizes and other items for the auction, and Marin Ski Club has given paper and plastic goods for the picnic. All proceeds go to the fire department.

A helicopter owned by the California Highway Patrol will kick off the event at 11 a.m. by landing in the parking lot at the Donner Summit Lodge. A barbershop quartet, the Sierra Mountainaires, a rock band named A Band Called Windows and a blues band called the Donner Mountain Boys will provide the music.

Six volunteers and professionals will give a rescue demonstration. With instruments dubbed “jaws of life,” including cutters and spreaders, they will extract a volunteer “victim” from a car, put him or her on a stretcher and into the ambulance. In a real-life situation, they try to get to victims as soon as possible without injuring them further.

About 10 to 15 volunteers and seven to eight paid firefighters man the Donner Summit Fire Station, depending on the season and availability. Most live locally, so when their pagers go off, they can arrive at the station within five to seven minutes, Tremble said. They cover the area spanning from the Donner Lake interchange to Blue Cannon.

Joni Kaufman, the treasurer for the association, has been a volunteer for the last seven years.

“We do a lot with very minimal staff,” she said. “We’re out there at all hours of the night”

Volunteers train at meetings the fire station holds once a week for four weeks before they begin work. Within their first year, they must attend classes for 12 weeks at a fire fighting academy through the North Tahoe Training Officers Association or its equivalent. All are EMT certified, with some, and all paid staff, going on to complete paramedic or other specialized training.

“The training is very intensive,” Kaufman said. But it doesn’t stop with the academy.

“(Volunteers) are constantly improving their skills,” she said. “They’re never not training. There’s always a faster way or a better way.”

Most volunteers have full-time jobs on top of the time they spend at the station. Kaufman runs a mobile notary service, and Tremble owns Truckee Tile and works for the Sugar Bowl ski patrol during the winter.

The addition of a new engine allows the Donner Summit firefighters to better assist fighting wildfires in other areas. Other engines are now available to remain in the home area. They have been fortunate to never have faced a major fire in the region they protect, Kaufman said.

“The reality is the whole mountain area is growing fast and furiously,” she said. “The whole stress is on (fire) prevention.”

The barbecue and picnic is their single fund-raiser of the year and supplements money from property taxes, special assessments, fees from services like ambulances and rescues, assistant Chief Stephen Lieberman said.

Volunteers are fundamental to the operation of the fire department. By national safety standards, it takes 12 people to fight a structure fire.

“We don’t have the funds to have that many people,” said Lieberman.