FRUITLAND — The Fruitland Fire Department is staffed by an all-volunteer team. But how does the city find people to volunteer for the task of stopping flames from becoming blazes?
It does so through the Fruitland Fire Department Cadet program.
As explained by cadet coordinator Stuart Grimes in an interview on May 25, the program trains high school students on the basics of firefighting and gives them usable experience toward a career in firefighting.
“It’s a two year program; The high school kids can start it their junior year,” said Grimes. “If they complete their junior year and they do satisfactory, they’re invited back for a second year … If they complete both years, then they get a credit on their high school transcript and they also get a $500 scholarship to apply to wherever they want to go to school.”
Grimes said the program helps the department build up a pool of possible volunteer firefighters, as the department is an all-volunteer one.
“Our capacity is 30 volunteer firefighters and so we try to stay pretty close to that,” Grimes noted. “This was a way to kind of grow our own, so if we get kids while they’re in high school, they can come in [and] train with our fire department.”
Students of the program attend fire drills with department officials on Tuesday nights and go through related exercises including fire suppression training. However, they don’t actually rescue people from real fires while they are underage.
“Obviously, if they’re just starting the program, they can’t go into a burning building on an active fire,” Grimes said.
After high school, Grimes said, many graduates have gone on to attend active fires managed by Bureau of Land Management crews in the summer season.
“It gives them some good, basic training and understanding of fire behavior, that can help them out with that too,” he added.
A teacher at Fruitland Middle School, Grimes said he visits Fruitland High School each fall to pitch the program to juniors and informs them on how and where to apply, a task which requires an actual city of Fruitland job application.
“Kind of a modified one,” he clarified. “Then they come and meet with our fire chief and the assistant chief, and they get them signed up and get them going on it.”
The program pre-dates Grimes’ time on the Fruitland City Council, according to him. He said the hope is that, even if cadets leave Fruitland to pursue their post-secondary education plans, they may return to Fruitland to help keep its residents safe.
“We have a lot people that have served on our fire department over the years that went through this program. Obviously, some of them move away to other places, and so they don’t come back and join the … department, but we’ve had really good success with it.”
The program is open to boys and girls, said Grimes. He observed that it attracted more girls than boys last school year.
“That was the first time for there to be more girls than boys, and it worked out great; They turned out to be good cadets, had some good experiences and so it been a good thing all the way around.”
Grimes also noted that despite its fire department relying on volunteer efforts, Fruitland maintains an excellent insurance rating which keeps homeowners’ insurance rates down in the city.
“We’re a ’three’ rating with the state, and so that actually benefits the citizens of Fruitland because … the better rating [a department has], the more money you save on your homeowner’s insurance premiums.”
The ratings are assigned by the Idaho Surveying and Rating Bureau; It grades fire departments on how well they protect their communities against the risk of fire every ten years, and awards a score of 1 to 10, with one being the best possible score.
“Especially for a volunteer fire department, [three is] a very good rating.”
Grimes also noted that despite being consistent with running drills on Tuesday nights, department officials have maintained a good track record of flexibility with students’ outside commitments, like sports teams.
“If they have a game that night, they just are expected to communicate that ahead of time with the chief, so they know.”
Grimes added that cadets also get to attend the city’s annual firefighter appreciation banquet. He encourages parents of students interested in the program to encourage them to sign up.