Changing the guard: After debates with fire department and council, new chief to be full-time position

Ethan Brogan

At the beginning of the year, Town Council and the Glenrock Volunteer Fire Department had growing friction during meetings. The town, looking to adhere to municipal codes, wanted to see a new fire chief.
However, the GVFD continued to nominate existing chief Jeff Nelson, citing he was the only one equipped with the training and regulation knowledge needed to keep the GVFD up to code. 
Nelson was affirmed as chief for the remainder of the year, while the GVFD and council came up with solutions for the issue.
Now, the town is looking to hire a paid fire chief position, which was budgeted for the 2018-19 Fiscal Year. Also earmarked in the budget is the possibility for the new chief to hire full-time firefighters.
Part of the reason for having a paid fire chief is because of the climate for volunteer firefighter organizations, which has been declining in recent years.
“I would think that if we are fortunate enough to recruit the appropriate hired fire chief to that position, we want to be in a position where politics don’t come into play.”
After Nelson had been affirmed for the year, he began giving council reports about the department. One of his main issues: keeping recruitment numbers up.
In January, Nelson cited people having busier lives and working more than one job as a reason for fewer volunteers. A trend which is happening across Wyoming and the U.S.
“The trend nationally and, certainly the trend in Wyoming, is making this more and more difficult to operate as a volunteer department,” Frank said. “That chief would be responsible for not only running the department, but recruiting, training, retention. . . it’s a tricky deal because the governance of our fire department here includes service to Rolling Hills and western Converse County.”
Of fire departments in the U.S., 67 percent are on a volunteer basis which accounts for approximately 814,000 of the 1.16 million firefighters, according to a 2015 U.S. Fire Administration study.
“It tends to be more regional. You might see more merging of departments in say the Pennsylvania area and more career fire servicing arriving in Montana for example,” U.S. Fire Administration spokesperson Tom Olshanski said. “It is a regional phenomenon based on the level of service that the community requires.”
The trend seems to be connected to the available population. For instance, more population dense areas have switched over to volunteer-based fire companies, while those with fewer people are switching to paid positions.
Glenrock will become one of those places with lower population needing to make a change to provide safe care from fire hazards.
Council is preparing an application for the chief and hopes to make the hire before the end of the year.
“We’ve got to have a more vigorous campaign to ensure we have adequate fire fighting capability,” Frank said.


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