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Anarchist Mountain Fire Department prepares for many types of situations
The Anarchist Mountain Fire Department (AMFD) once again is holding its annual community barbecue on Saturday both as a fundraiser and to greet the community.
This month also marks 11 years since a wildfire burned on the mountain in 2003 and destroyed three homes.
The formation of the AMFD was a direct response to this episode.
Today the AMFD is a much better equipped and trained volunteer force of about 24, which will soon take on additional first responder training enabling it to better deal with motor vehicle accidents on the mountain.
The barbecue and silent auction take place at the Summit Centre at Hwy. 3 and Peregrine Road next to the rest stop starting at 4:30 p.m.
Fire Chief Rob Burk said last year’s barbecue raised nearly $3,500.
This year the money will go to the fire department, possibly to help pay for a “dry hydrant,” or a non-pressurized water reservoir that firefighters can draw from when they need water.
The location of the community on the mountain presents the fire department with special challenges that it meets with training, equipment and an active community that recently was among the first to win recognition as a FireSmart Community.
“We have a very diverse topography,” said Burk. “We go from absolute dry desert to full forest and we have a community embedded into the forest areas so we have a high hazard.”
In addition to the possibility of “interface fires” – when wildfires come into contact with inhabited areas – the fire department also faces the challenges of a limited water supply and a wide area, Burk said.
“We have to learn to cover a lot of unique situations because we don’t have hydrants, so we have to shuttle water, we have forest fires, we’ve got structural fires, we’ve got vehicle fires and extrication,” said Burk. “We’re doing rescuing into the mountains.”
The department serves an area extending from just above Nk’Mip property owned by the Osoyoos Indian Band on Hwy. 3 to the summit area under a mutual aid agreement, Burk said. In addition to fighting fires, they also do vehicle extrication.
Firefighters are trained internally both by Burk and Captain Darren Hutchinson and they also receive external training.
Burk, who has been chief for more than three years, said he specializes in structural firefighting, having served for more than 18 years as a firefighter in Fort McMurray, Alta.
Complementing his skills and knowledge, Hutchinson specializes in forestry firefighting. Hutchinson also advised the community group that was instrumental in the FireSmart Community program.
Currently three members are receiving officer training with Dale Kronebusch of the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen (RDOS) and members will be undertaking first responder training starting in September, Burk said.
“For a small department, we’re trying to do a lot of things, but we can’t specialize in everything,” said Burk, noting that they train for the most likely eventualities.
While turnover of volunteer firefighters has been high in the past, in large part because there are many senior members, Burk said turnover has been slowing down recently.
“People are starting to stay now,” he said. “We’ve got some new younger members. Turnover was quite high, but now it seems to have stabilized.”
A major development in the last three years has been important equipment upgrades, Burk said. The force has acquired a new vehicle rescue truck and it will be auctioning off older pieces of equipment to upgrade for a newer second unit.
Burk said he’s grateful to members of the community who donated specifically to help the AMFD acquire first responder equipment that will, along with the new training, extend the department’s capabilities.
“People thought it was important to get the medical ability on the hill because sometimes it’s a long response from Osoyoos,” he said. “Now we’ll have members all over the entire mountain trained with first responder level, which will be a great asset to the community.”