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Fire, any volunteers?

Jaws of Life … Shortly after the open house demonstration, the Jaws of Life were used to cut an injured woman from this car. It collided into the back of a loaded gravel truck. Assistant Fire Chief Roger Williams is amazed that the call was for a rescue of a live person, rather than recovery of a body.

The Philip Fire Department has 42 members led by Marty Hansen and Roger Williams. When an emergency call comes in to the Philip Police Station, ten phones around Philip ring. A 911 call goes through Rapid City first, but is just as fast. Usually Marty or Roger are the ones to sound the whistle and initiate pagers. An estimated dozen or more volunteers quickly arrive, ready for anything. If the situation requires more volunteers, the whistle keeps blowing and almost everyone is soon present and accounted for.

Eight trucks stand ready. One 4000 gallon tanker, two ambulances, and a powerful emergency lighting trailer also are primed to go. Jaws-of-Life and truck-lifting air bags are just some of the specialized tools. Everyone has extensive training. Five have over 200 hours of EMT training and a dozen have at least 40 hours of First Responder training. Most have National Weather Service, pyro-tech (industrial fireworks), and Emergency Vehicle Operations Course (EVOC) training. All have been to the yearly District Fire School. Full safety gear for everyone is mandatory.

The basic routine: first a potential volunteer shows interest and they are nominated at their first meeting by a current volunteer. Meetings are at 8:00 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month. The newcomer must attend at least two more meetings before they are voted in. The recruit’s training has already begun. This year’s District Fire School is in Murdo, Sept. 26th.

One recent call was to peel open a crumpled car to rescue a badly injured woman. The collision had broken the back axle of a loaded gravel truck. Another call was to inventively hook-up and pull out an uninvited man stuck in a tiny chimney for about eight hours. Building or grass fires, loss of major power lines, weather spotting, minor or false calls; all are possibilities. Training and community open-houses are routine. Monday the Philip Schools had CPR and related training during teacher in-service. It was even planned for Tuesday evening that the volunteers help put up the roof to the new Fire Hall Park picnic shelter.

Last year there were 25-30 calls; minor and false calls not counted. This year there have already been 18-20 fire and ambulance calls. Two to three trucks respond to every accident to help in any way, including supervising traffic.

Nothing is free; well almost nothing. Volunteers are not reimbursed for their time. Donations are almost everything. If no insurance exists concerning a responded-to call, no collection is made. Most hay fires are usually around $250. The Philip Volunteer Fire Department is not a tax district. The county pays nothing. The city of Philip gives fuel, building insurance, heat, electricity, and telephone.

The state of South Dakota has donated one of the trucks on the only condition that at least one truck will respond to a Black Hills fire.

Volunteers receive only training and an intangible sense of purpose. Three volunteers are a father and sons team. Currently only one is a woman, though as many as three women have been on the force at one time. Some volunteers live in town, while others live fairly far away. To drive, one must be 21, but junior membership goes down to 16 years of age.

One of the biggest supports for the Philip Volunteer Fire Department is that the businesses allow their workers to respond to calls. Some businesses even loan space, tools, and expertise to work on Department equipment. Much thanks is given from the Department to these businesses.