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Retirements Sap Volunteer Force

Bingen seeks more firefighters; fall recruitment campaign eyed.

The Bingen Fire Department is beginning to run short of volunteer firefighters.

According to Mayor Brian Prigel, a recruitment effort to help address the situation will be launched sometime this fall.

"We need another six or so," Prigel explained. "We have about 10 people now, but only half are active. We're getting down there, and we need some people."

Bingen firefighter David Spratt, a seven-year veteran of the Fire Department who serves as the department's training officer, said the decline in the number of firefighters came primarily from retirements, but that was not the only reason.

"Most of the people who've left are older and have retired," Spratt said. "Also, a lot of younger people in the department have moved out of town. Jeff Bruce, for example -- that was a big loss. He was well-trained and knew what to do."

In Bruce's case at least, the community as a whole did not lose out. Bruce moved to White Salmon, but when he did so he joined the White Salmon Fire Department.

Bingen Fire Chief Louis Geschwint noted that Bingen has an all-volunteer Fire Department. He pointed out that the situation in Bingen is similar to that facing other rural areas, with many of the town's firefighters away from town during the day.

"We're looking at, like most fire departments in smaller towns, pretty good numbers in the evenings, but in the day we're short," Geschwint said.

"That's one of our main problems," Spratt explained. "Most people work out of town, and sometimes it's hard to get enough people to respond. At night, everybody's around and we don't have a problem then."

Geschwint said the department is waiting for the new fire station to be completed before mounting an active recruiting campaign.

"Until we can get into that new building, there is really no room for training," he explained.

The fire station is currently under construction, with completion slated for December.

Prigel said the city would like to get a list of potential volunteers who could join the department after some seasoning.

"They would need to be trained as to what is required to be safe in responding to a fire before they were sent to fight fires," Prigel said.

"As it is now, it's been on-the-job training," Spratt said. "We plan on setting up actual classroom time, and teaching the stuff you need to know step by step. It will probably take 60 hours of training to get certified. We're right now working on getting training set up."

According to Geschwint, those interested in joining the Bingen Fire Department need to be at least 21 years old and in good physical condition.

Prigel added that the Fire Department planned to have a booth at the upcoming Huckleberry Festival to help spread the word about the need for volunteers.

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