Homer’s volunteer fire department celebrated 60 years of service this weekend. They marked the occasion with a public barbecue, giving families a chance to explore the fire hall and its finest equipment.
When all is said and done, Homer’s 35 volunteer firefighters contribute between 7,000 and 10,000 hours of service in their field every year, said Fire Chief Bob Painter.
That time includes training, outreach and emergency responses. The department, which has five paid staff but relies primarily on volunteer time, was established in 1952. It incorporated in 1954, 10 years before the city of Homer. Its first vehicle, a red 1942 Willys Jeep, still makes parade appearances, but is a far cry from the modern neon green trucks shown off on Saturday.
Painter has been with the department for just over 20 years. He said Homer is an excellent example of how most of the U.S., Alaska especially, relies on volunteer emergency responders.
"About 60 percent of departments nationwide are volunteer," said Painter. "If we had to pay our 35 or more volunteers ... that would be well over a half-million dollars."
The department has been recognized over the years as a premier volunteer organization by the Homer Chamber of Commerce, and for excellent service, such as its work following a Ryan Air Service plane crash in the 1980s.
Its long time medical director, Homer’s Doctor Bill Bell, is a two-time recipient of the state’s Longenbaugh memorial award for leadership in emergency services. Many volunteers are trained as both firefighters and EMTs, Painter said, and he’s seen more and more seek careers in emergency fields following their start with the department.
"All of our emergency responders are certified by the state," he said. "For most people, it's just wanting to give back to the community."