Fort Bidwell Volunteer Fire Department

Fort Bidwell Fire Protection District - Operations and Policy



The Fort Bidwell Fire Protection District is a tiny, rural, unpaid, all volunteer, district which exists because time is of the essence, distances to other resources are far, and the community has no money.

The District is about 12 by 15 miles, including the town of Fort Bidwell, the Reservation, and outlying ranches. The West one-third is the Warner Mountain Forest; the rest is flat, sage savannah with ranch pasture and hay fields. It is 15 miles to Lake City, 25 miles to Cedarville (BLM and USFS), and 50 miles over the mountains to the City of Alturas (Cal Fire). BLM handles Cal Fire responsibility in Surprise Valley. The winter has moderate snow and ice.

The District has about 220 inhabitants with 150 housing units, 95 occupied, most in the town, half on the Reservation (See Demographics). Houses are single storey, wooden homes with no basement or occupied attic. A few are two storey, including the historic Fort Bidwell Hotel.

Operations Overview

Operations by the Fort Bidwell Volunteer Fire Department are limited by personnel, equipment, and availability. Response cannot be guaranteed.

The Department is dispatched by pager from the Sheriff's Office, and occasionally by direct call to a Department member.

Our primary function is as a first response and report for fires. We also respond to other emergencies because we are the only organized responder in the area. In all cases, we assess and call for support whether immediate or precautionary. For any major event, incident command and action are by BLM, Cal Fire, USFS, Surprise Valley Healthcare District  Ambulance Service, or the Sheriff's Office, when they arrive. We assist as requested, most often by supplying water with our tender and access to our Fire House well.

For normal events, such as grass or burn pile fires, chimney fires, small house fires, etc. we can complete the suppression ourselves. Because we can respond faster than others far away, our response limits damage, and prevents an incident from expanding and causing additional damage.

For some fires, we rely on the Lake City Volunteer Fire Department 15 miles South. They have larger water tenders, but are themselves a tiny, rural, unpaid, all volunteer, fire department. Their tenders can provide more water than we can get from our well or tender trips back and forth to the fire.

The Department responds to incidents on the Reservation as the BIA provides no assistance. Tribal members have a small fire truck and will attack a fire themselves as well as help us.

Wildland fires are the responsibility of Cal Fire or BLM (See Responsibility Areas). Our function is as a first attack and report. Thereafter BLM or Cal Fire takes over. Sometimes we can control and stop a small grass fire, but even then BLM or Cal Fire mops up. Often local ranchers have started the attack before we get there. They have expertise in farm machinery, tractors, etc., and are not likely to wait for us. We do not enter the burn zone, our only response is applying water from a distance.

For medical calls, we will respond if it appears we can help.  We no longer have certified first responders, so our help is limited to reporting to the ambulance crew, first aid, professional CPR (we are certified for an AED), and assisting the ambulance crew on scene. Sometimes, we find a difficult or uncertain location. Our attack truck has substantial first aid supplies and equipment, including AED, oxygen, and PPEs.

Other incidents are rare including vehicle accidents. We have limited capability for vehicle extraction and will call the Cedarville Volunteer Fire Department in difficult cases, however several of our members have had extraction training. For Hazmat, our rural community is not on any transportation corridors, so fuels are our main hazardous material.

Operational Policy

Fort Bidwell will respond within its district, as far South as Lake City, and into Northern Washoe County, Nevada. We don't have excess engines to deploy beyond return to our district to respond to fires.

We do not enter into or climb on burning structures, enter grass fire burn zones, or enter confined spaces. All fire fighting is done at a distance using water.

The Fire Chief decides whether a member or other volunteer is fit for duty. A new member is expected to attend meetings so we can get to know them (aka evaluate them).

Operations Detail Notes

Not in any particular order, not yet organized.