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Volunteer fire department bringing help and heroes to community

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North Bannock Fire Department crews run Engine No. 11 through monthly diagnostics checks on March 3. NBFD checks all of its equipment once per week, and run all equipment through complete readiness test the first Wednesday of every month.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of a five-part series examining the lives of law enforcement and emergency responders in the Pocatello/Chubbuck area. Read Part 1 here.

CHUBBUCK — Ten minutes. So much can happen in what seems like such a short period of time.

In less than 10 minutes, you can read about four pages of your favorite book while you boil the perfect pasta. Ten minutes is more than enough time for a fire to fully engulf a room and move on toward destroying a home before spreading to those around it.

And ten minutes is the difference in response time between the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard and the in-house goal at the North Bannock Fire Department.

The standard for a volunteer fire department, per the NFPA, is to have an engine en route to a fire within 15 minutes. NBFD chief JR Farnsworth expects his crew to respond to a fire within six. But quicker than that, either Farnsworth or one of his battalion chiefs is always on-call to dispatch in the chief’s truck, equipped with a water cannon, within a minute.

“Expectations under NFPA standards is a little [lower] than what we’re doing,” Farnsworth told EastIdahonews.com. “Usually, I have a first-out engine in six to eight minutes from the call. … Every minute counts with a fire.”

The department, which has been servicing the unincorporated areas surrounding Chubbuck and Pocatello since October 2019, was originally funded through a temporary tax levy. Farnsworth has also added funding to the department through extensive grant applications. But it has benefitted from donations made by the full-time fire departments in Pocatello and Idaho Falls. Donations, not in the form of money, but essential equipment.

Through tool donations and sales of used apparatuses at an “extremely discounted” rate, North Bannock Firefighters’ Association (NBFA) President Jim Devenney says that his firehouse house been outfitted with nearly $400,000 worth of equipment from the aid of their full-time brethren.

North Bannock FD lockers and turnout gear, Feb. 27, 2021

North Bannock Fire Department turnout gear hanging in firefighters’ lockers on Feb. 27, 2021. Because North Bannock is a volunteer department, there is no living quarters in the firehouse, firefighters get alerts for emergencies and must respond to the firehouse to retrieve gear and dispatch to the emergency. The department goal is to have the first-out truck, engine No. 11, dispatched within five minutes.

Assistance has come from local full-time firefighters in forms other than the physical, as well.

Working side-by-side with the Pocatello and Chubbuck departments, Devenney is happy his crew is accepted as equal. And with the majority of its work coming around Fort Hall, NBFD is even more pleased to have a positive working relationship with the Fort Hall Fire Department.

“You can’t put a price on it,” Devenney said of his department’s partnership with Fort Hall FD. “They’ve accepted us, even though we’re volunteers and we don’t have the experience that they have — but we are getting it, day by day. They welcome us with open arms. We do a little bit of training together, here and there.”

The two departments train together twice per year, Devenney said. And after large fires, like one near Fort Hall last year, the two debrief together, with the Fort Hall chief and captains offering advice and insight to the Chubbuck-based volunteer department.

North Bannock does its own training as well on Wednesdays and Saturdays each week.

“Our firefighters need to be trained. This is a job that will kill you — literally,” Farnsworth said. “So you have to have firefighters that are trained and that takes time and commitment.”

As with full-time crews, total commitment is absolutely essential for the North Bannock crew. That is why the application and hiring process is modeled after that of the full-time crews, including an intensive background check.

“Just like the full-time fire department, there is an interview panel that they have to go in front of,” former full-timer Farnsworth said. “We have to decide if they are the right fit for the department, and make sure that the department is the right fit for them.”

Through the hiring process, weekly training and the 105 calls the department answered in 2020, NBFA Vice-president Bryan Wheat thinks that NBFD has formed a crew to be proud of. One formed of unlikely sources — students and teachers, professors, doctors and lawyers. The unit, firefighter Jamie Brown says, is a family.

“I think the coolest thing about this is the people,” Wheat said. “We have some pretty sharp people here. We’ve got a really cool group. What I really like about this is you get some great comradery. There’s some really cool people who have gotten really close.”

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