For the past two years, the Valle-Wood Volunteer Fire Department has been finding more and more time on its hands.
Calls have gone down for the past two years, but so has tourism traffic. Last year, the department responded to only 23 calls — that’s an average of about two calls per month.
Still, volunteers expect things to pick up again as tourism recovers and highway use goes up. Besides the tourists, there are also more people moving to the area. For example, a new ranch development northeast of Valle has been going in.
But will the Valle-Wood Volunteer Fire Department get more respect? Fire chief Larry Doering indicated that dispatch operators seem to be overlooking them.
"This last Sunday (March 9), we were called to an MVA (motor-vehicle accident) at milepost 215 north of town," Doering said. "When we arrived, Tusayan and Guardian Medical were already there. They had the patient packaged and ready to transport."
Doering said Valle received a page and the two responding took 15 minutes to reach the site.
"I know it takes a half hour or better for Tusayan to get down here from there," Doering said. "Why weren’t we paged sooner?"
Board president Roger Miller said that over the past year, there have been ups and downs with dispatch organization.
"Sometimes, we get out of the loop a little bit and we have to refresh memories about calling us," Miller said. "I don’t know if it’s accidental or for whatever reason, but occasionally we find out about others getting calls right in our territory and we’re not."
And that could be another factor on why calls have been down, along with the reduced tourism, road construction and even the drought.
"Since we’re out here where we are, they have a tendency to forget about us every once in a while," Miller said. "The last few days, the highways have been just jammed. If we experience an upswing in travel to the park, we’ll probably experience an upswing in accidents again. I’ve seen animal carcasses all over the road."
What does the future hold for the Valle-Wood VFD? Now that the department has received its $62,479 federal grant, needed personal protective equipment can be purchased. Miller hopes that, in turn, will attract more volunteers.
The grant can only be used for a specific purpose, however, as the department continues to survive on donations and fund-raisers. There will likely be no Fourth of July fireworks show again this year because of the drought. Another IMAX show or being able to purchase a truck to respond to wildland fires could be the answer.
Applying for another grant to purchase a water truck capable of holding at least 5,000 gallons might be on the horizon.
"The likelihood of being called into a situation like last year is really high," Miller said, referring to wildland fires and the need for northern Arizona departments to respond. "Looking at maps of wildfire in Arizona in past years, the only places in Arizona with no catastrophic wildfire is an area by Prescott and the Grand Canyon."
A department can raise a lot of money by helping in wildland fire situations. For example, Miller said Tusayan’s fire department was paid $12,000 for eight days of work on the Rodeo-Chediski fire last summer.
"If we did that, that would be our whole budget for the year," Miller said.
Board members debated for several minutes over what type of truck would be most appropriate. There was also discussion about whether the department could really send firefighters. The department currently has three certified firefighters with a fourth on the way.
"If we’re getting a truck ... we’ll have to have people to be able to go," board member Robert Carson said. "Having a truck with nobody to go is the same thing as having no truck. We need to have somebody who can go for a few weeks."
Despite income opportunities, others felt the department needed a truck or tender for its own use anyway.
"If we have the opportunity and want to pursue renting it out, we can do that," Miller said. "But we need one here."
Among the current vehicles, the department has a brush truck that is 21 or 22 years old, Miller said.
In the end, the board decided to pursue obtaining a water truck. Sources with the state and the National Park Service were to be asked about any possible surplus vehicles.
As indicated, the Fourth of July fireworks show seems to be a wash for the third time in four years. Even the department’s pancake breakfast for the Planes of Fame air show could be in doubt. Miller said there seems to be questions about this year’s air show because of a Planes of Fame accident at another location.
"The fireworks are up in the air because if we couldn’t do it last year, we’re probably not going to do it this year," Miller said. "Unless we see an arc floating by, we probably won’t have any fireworks. That leaves out the two biggest events of the year."
Miller said perhaps it’s time to drop the fireworks idea completely.
"When we first started doing this, it was fine," Miller said. "Then Tusayan had their Fourth of July activities and that was always a conflict, so we’d move it to the weekend. I say we just drop the idea completely and go with IMAX and raising money with trucks to fires."
Doering said IMAX Theater may be willing to organize another fund-raiser. The Tusayan business hosted back-to-back nightly showings of a wildfire large-format movie at no expense to the department. Around $2,300 was raised.
"If IMAX is willing to go with that again, then we should definitely pursue that," Miller said.
The department may also try to re-establish an auxiliary group. Miller said money could be raised through things like bake sales and bingo games.
(Editor’s note: This was the third and final story in a series on the Valle-Wood Volunteer Fire Department).