If you had an opportunity to build a fire department from scratch, would you do it?
Michael Carter moved to the town of Antelope, Ore., more than a year ago. The historic frontier town in the north-central part of the state is home to 50 residents and surrounded by nearly 200 square miles of unprotected ranches and other tiny communities. The nearest fire/rescue unit or ambulance is at least 45 minutes away.
Carter is a retired mobile intensive-care-unit paramedic. Now living on his own, he was concerned over medical-responder preparedness if anything ever happened to him. The more he investigated, the more his concerns grew. So, Carter decided to resurrect the defunct volunteer fire department — with no tax base and very little money from the city’s general fund.
Carter found that the original fire station was nothing more than a garage filled with junk from the 1970s. As the building had been left unlocked, any useable equipment had been stolen.
“It was very sad, much like a Third World outfit,” he said. “I took it upon myself to correct the situation. Essentially, I have been building this fire department and EMS unit up from scratch since assuming responsibility.”
Carter recruited 12 volunteer firefighters and additional volunteers to provide support services. Some of the firefighters are attending a Firefighter I academy, provided for free by a mutual-aid department 45 minutes away. Carter worked as a volunteer firefighter in the 1980s and 90s, so he sharing what knowledge he can, and he plans to conduct EMT training in due course.
The department responds to calls on a 1975 Ford Pirsch Type-2; a 1985 GMC Sierra 1-ton 4x4 Type 6 truck for quick attack, brush fires and some rescue work; and a 1979 Chevy C65 1,000- gallon water tender that previously was used by the Oregon Department of Forestry. Carter hopes the department will received a donated 1994 ambulance in which to keep a patient warm while waiting for one of the ambulance services.
With limited funds, Carter began a letter-writing campaign and boldly asked for help — used apparatus, gear, equipment— from 32 big-city fire chiefs. He was heart-sick when he heard that his former metro department recently donated a fire truck and equipment to a city in Mexico when he had asked for help last year.
Carter also has written more than 400 letters to private companies telling them about his department. When one local company donated a chain saw, Carter's firefighters were elated.
“It never hurts to ask,” he said.
Antelope’s SCBA and bottles are from the 1980s. The department doesn't have narrowband radios; Carter communicates with a dispatcher 90 minutes away by cell phone. The chief then alerts his volunteers with open pagers in hopes they will hear the call to respond.
“It’s an uphill battle," Carter said. "But it needs to be done, and it’s my passion.”
The Antelope Fire Department has made strides, and the dedication of its volunteers are a testament to rural America’s can-do attitude.
I learned about Carter and the Antelope Fire Department when he wrote asking for a free subscription to FIRE CHIEF. “My hope is to have a current resource from which I can draw more information about the latest in fire service leadership, research, tactics, education and equipment. This would help me tremendously my first role as a fire service leader,” Carter wrote.
Helping fire departments in other countries is noble, but sometimes charity begins at home.