Persistence pays off for Tusayan Fire

Department receives $180,000 SAFER grant enabling expanded volunteer recruitment, firefighter retention and training

Ryan Williams/WGCN<br>
Pictured top row left to right is Mike Cockrum, Tim Leija, Ben Gomez, Cody Bettencourt, Bob Petzoldt, Greg Brush, Pat Barker and Ray Kendall. Also pictured are Guardian Medical staff members Mark Kennedy and Dan Connela. Front row: Deputy Chief Bruce Baker and Chief Robert Evans. Not pictured is Lora Pitsinger, Robert Mazza, Jake Banks, Matt Anifnon, Heather Bettencourt and Dan Reger. The Tusayan Fire Department recently received a $180,000 SAFER grant. The funding will go toward firefighter salaries and training.

Ryan Williams/WGCN<br> Pictured top row left to right is Mike Cockrum, Tim Leija, Ben Gomez, Cody Bettencourt, Bob Petzoldt, Greg Brush, Pat Barker and Ray Kendall. Also pictured are Guardian Medical staff members Mark Kennedy and Dan Connela. Front row: Deputy Chief Bruce Baker and Chief Robert Evans. Not pictured is Lora Pitsinger, Robert Mazza, Jake Banks, Matt Anifnon, Heather Bettencourt and Dan Reger. The Tusayan Fire Department recently received a $180,000 SAFER grant. The funding will go toward firefighter salaries and training.

TUSAYAN, Ariz - Even if some might think it's an outdated cliché, character counts.

Tusayan Fire Chief Robert Evans is a testament to that. After four years of perseverance, his determination finally landed the Tusayan Fire Department (TFD) a grant through the 2010 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant Program.

TFD board member John Vail was pleased with the good news, attributing the success to Evans' dogged persistence.

"Rob's been trying for this for years and it's truly just through his diligence and determination that made this happens. It's wonderful, absolutely wonderful," Vail said.

Awarded by the federal government, the $180,000 grant will be distributed over four years, July 2011 though June 2015.

Evans said the funds will go toward the department's volunteer personnel in order to cover paid shifts along with funding structural, wildland and EMS training for TFD personnel. They have a consistent volunteer base of approximately 17 people.

With a budget of a little over $300,000 a year and two full-time and two part-time employees, Evans said a third of the fire department's budget goes toward salary. After he received a call from a SAFER program representative several weeks ago, Evans said he began to think this year could be the year the department might be awarded the grant.

"I put in every year, and usually get turned down and last year they said, 'wow last year your grant was really good, we just don't have the money,' this year I put it in and made them cry more," Evans said. "A lady called me up and asked me some questions about a month ago. I thought, that's weird, they've never asked me questions before, and I think that looks good."

Evans plans to utilize the $40,000 of the $60,000 dispensed this year for personnel salaries. The other $20,000 will be for training.

"We are going to offer some of our volunteers full-duty shifts and then we will pay them. That should pay two salaries," he said. "It's really hard to have a core base in a town like this and we've always had big plans about doing stuff."

For TFD, having enough personnel on duty is key, and a high turnover rate is something Evans said has been a challenge in the past. He hopes this grant will be the beginning of a stable personnel foundation for the fire team.

"We just don't have the budget to keep people. So we will offer them to come in, pull shifts and actually make some money," he said. "It's not like Williams, nobody owns their home, and there's no buy in. You either love the job or you hate it. We've hired part-time people and they've always left, because once you train people they want to go out and work full-time and make a career out of it. Everybody we have ever hired, they all leave eventually, especially the younger guys. I thought maybe this would help."

The grant comes at an opportune time. As the town of Tusayan goes through major transitions due to incorporation, Evans added the TFD needs to be prepared for changes as well.

"If they do start building houses and we have people that actually own their home, maybe there will be more buy in. This grant will give us four more years of waiting until that time," he said.

Founded in August of 1996, TFD protects around 1000 residents; with a due area of five square miles, and averages around 300 incidents a year. Included in their first response area is the Grand Canyon Airport, which is the third busiest airport in Arizona during the summer.

One fire station houses all of the department's operations, which encompasses firefighting, basic and advanced life support emergency medical services, and vehicle rescue.

Presently, the TFD is in the process of assisting the Kaibab National Forest with urban interface area surrounding Tusayan. In conjunction with the Tusayan Community Wild Fire Protection Plan (TCWPP) this program is being used to remove the threat of a catastrophic wild land fire event.

For more information or to learn how to volunteer, visit www.tusayanfire.org.

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