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 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 that 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.
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.
Fire Engines are positioned well away from the fire, ready to depart, refill, etc. We take the hose to the fire not the truck.
We use 1 inch and 1.5 inch hose and low pressure, as we do not have the personnel to hold 2.5 inch hose under high pressure.
Flush valves on engine tanks before connecting hose. Prevents nozzle clogging.
We never hesitate to call for assistance from Dispatch and anticipate likely needs.
All persons will stay out of the fire zone unless part of the attack crew.
As a rural community, we are alert for propane, gasoline, and diesel fuel storage.
If fire near a propane tank, release valve may vent and gases burn. Very hot, stay back, perhaps behind a barrier.
We use turnout gear for closer access to a fire, but not to enter burning structures. Most other times we use wildland gear.
The firefighter managing the tender and water supply also acts as a safety observer. Everyone pays attention to the others on the fire.
Trucks have drinking water and fire shelters.
We do not use SCBAs as we do not enter burning structures or confined spaces.
We have stand alone pumps to get water from creeks, ponds, and lakes.
For vehicle extraction we call the Cedarville Volunteer Fire Department.
For more water we call the Lake City Volunteer Fire Department.
The main training opportunity is the pre Fire Season training and review. Professional medical training (First Aid, CPR, AED) is organized by Valley departments.
The attack truck has all the medical supplies.
Use wheel chocks when parked on a grade.