Arlee volunteers serve hundreds of pancakes to raise funds
By Karen Peterson
ARLEE – Although the breakfast served by volunteers with the Arlee Fire Department was filled with celebration on the Fourth of July morning, the need behind the event wasn’t quite as festive.
“We are working on getting the money to buy a machine to clean the toxic materials that cause cancer from our gear,” said Ken Light, department chief.
The problem starts when a firefighter responds to an emergency and collects things like asbestos, plastic toxins and other chemicals on their gear. When they get back to the firehouse, the old protocol involves dousing the gear with water to remove the toxins. “We’ve learned that trying to wash down with a hose isn’t enough,” Light said. “We need a way to wash the protective clothing to protect these firefighters.”
Department board member Keith Barrows said a special washing machine is designed to extract material from the gear firefighters wear but it costs $8,000. The department is in the process of counting the funds from the event to see how close they are to being able to purchase the machine. He added that the department is also working on the upstairs level of the firehouse so that firefighters can have a place to rest while on call.
Light said the department is doing well as far as equipment goes. “We’ve got equipment and we’ve got vehicles, and they are beautiful, better than ever, but we need volunteers.”
Across the country, he said, low volunteer rates with fire and ambulance services could be traced back to several factors, including busy lifestyles and not enough young people living in small towns, but he thinks there is another reason. “You have to have a certain personality to be able to respond to an emergency,” he said.
He talked about the time he arrived on the scene of a wreck and realized a person’s injuries were so extensive that comforting the victim was the only thing that could be done. “I understand that not everyone can do this, but for those that can, we welcome the help,” he said.
Light took over as the chief earlier this year after Sean Parson, who is still a volunteer, needed to step down due to work commitments. Light served as the chief about five years ago. He said that volunteers serve as chief when they can, usually for a few years.
During the breakfast, the volunteers served 120 eggs and ran out. They made a run to the store to get 30 dozen more. Two hundred pounds of sausage were cooked and served, and about 250 pounds of pancake mix was used.
As the tables were starting to be cleaned up, Barrows looked at the record log and determined that 662 people had attended the event. “Wait, we’ve got a few more,” he said of a group of people stopping through town on pedal bikes. “We’ve had a great year. I think this was one of the bigger ones.”