The St. James Fire Protection District is seeking volunteer firefighters to join, as volunteers have dwindled in recent years. Volunteers are what keep the department functioning and serve the community with a variety of fire-related services.
Fire Chief John Douglas said the department runs on the efforts of volunteers and, in recent years, the number of those serving has diminished and he is hoping to bring new faces into the pool.
“We are down to about 20 to 25 volunteers, with about 12 active. I’d like to have 30 on the department,” Douglas explained. “I’ll take as many as we can get. One out of five or 10 stick with it.”
Douglas said volunteerism is not only affecting St. James, but departments throughout the area as well as other volunteer organizations. Fewer people are joining these groups and other service forward organizations, making it difficult to do the work they want to. Getting involved is easy, with a simple application process.
“Basically, we check their ID to make sure you’re not a felon,” Douglas explained. “You have to be over 16. If not over 18, we ask a parent’s permission. You have to live inside the district and have a good vehicle record.”
Once approved, the department will help with training on proper fire procedures, how equipment is used, how the vehicles work, and other skills necessary in carrying out the duties of a firefighter.
The district covers 220 square miles, serving Phelps County, Maries County, and a portion of Crawford County, and to do so takes a lot of work from volunteers willing to answer the call and work together to address the needs of St. James and surrounding communities with mutual aid. Those who serve are the lifeblood of making it possible to answer those calls and Douglas hopes those interested will join to make it easier to provide services without only a few participating.
This year especially has been a challenging one for the department, as call volume has spiked in the early months of 2021, looking to exceed an average year.
“We’ve had 180 calls for service. The call volume has been really high this year. There have been a lot of accidents and a lot of call escalation,” Douglas explained. “In March, we had 66 calls and we are up to 18 in April already.”
He said, during an average year, the fire department receives between 400 and 500 calls. This year, the call volume has increased despite no longer responding to every EMS call.
“We don’t go on every EMS calls like Rolla. We go to some of them, but not all,” Douglas said.
He added calls range from brush fires, vehicle accidents, structure fires, or to aid other agencies, such as the ambulance, police, or fire departments needing mutual aid.
“We give (firefighters) a pager, which we prefer they use, but we also use a system Active 911 alert for their cell phone,” he said. While the pager system, he said, is more accurate in getting volunteers organized, most everyone carries a cell phone now and the system will also alert them on their device so they can respond.
Douglas is hoping members of the community who are interested in firefighting or learning more about how the department works will get involved. Those interested can stop by the fire station at 903 North Jefferson or call 573-265-5112 to learn more.