Thousands of aluminum cans with the iconic Anheuser-Busch label arrived at the Lovelock Volunteer Fire Department last week. There will not be a beer party at the fire house, however. The six packs hold an absolutely essential liquid that will be reserved for more serious business.
Instead of alcohol, the cans contain drinking water needed to keep fire crews and emergency medical teams hydrated during any emergency including what could be another busy wildfire season. The LVFD was one of 26 volunteer fire departments across the country, and the only one in Nevada, to receive free water from the beer company. In a partnership with the National Volunteer Fire Council, Anheuser-Busch recently expanded its 30-year-old emergency drinking water program “to provide critical hydration to first responders in advance of wildlife season.”
“Eighty-three percent of the nation’s fire departments, which protect our communities from hazards of all kinds, are all or mostly all volunteer,” NVFC Chairman Steve Hirsch says in the press release. “Funding for needed resources is a constant challenge for many of these departments, making this donation even more important as it directly supports the health and safety of our firefighters and the communities they serve.”
Anheuser-Busch will “pause” beer production to fill cans with water for communities coping with natural disasters in a 30-year partnership with the American Red Cross. Now, volunteer fire departments across the country in need of emergency drinking will also benefit. The aluminum cans are clearly marked “WATER” to avoid any confusion about the contents of the containers.
“In the same way we have utilized our production strengths to can water throughout the year to support our communities at a moment’s notice, these water donations- in advance of wildfire season- will provide critical hydration to help our nation’s volunteer firefighters stand ready for our communities in times of need,” Anheuser-Busch Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility Adam Warrington said in the statement.
Starting this month, any volunteer fire department can request drinking water from the beer company’s “rapid response program” through the NVFC for immediate wildfire response needs.
“They took truckloads of this water to Katrina,” said Mike Heidemann of the LVFD. “Now, they are wanting to support volunteer firefighters that are in the wildland fire interface.”
As the Nevada Director for the NVFC, Heidemann became involved in the new program and applied for the free water on behalf of his own fire department. Hydration and rehab are “so important” for firefighters who may work long hours on wildfires and other emergencies, he said.
“What can we do for Lovelock because that’s my home department,” he said. “I submitted the paperwork on behalf of the LVFD. Once these initial 26 departments across the country get the water then they’re going to open it up to other eligible departments. We’re kind of a test for it and I thought it was pretty cool that Lovelock got selected as one of the 26 departments selected being there are 680,000 volunteer firefighters in the country.”
Of the 173 fire departments in Nevada, about 140 are either all volunteer or have a combination of volunteer and paid staff. LVFD is an all volunteer department although that may change in the future if the demands increase as Pershing County grows, Heidemann said.
“Mineral County has five paid firefighters supported by volunteers so there’s always somebody at the fire house,” he said. “I think we need to get to that point now. At least administratively because of all of the grants, the paperwork and the compliance issues. There’s so many issues of compliance with the EMS side, the firefighting side, the hazmat side. Even our neighboring department over in Churchill County, they have five full time people and they’re all administrators and mechanics and the volunteers fight the fires. North Lyon County just hired a chief at well over $100,000 a year over in Fernley.”
LVFD is allowed up to 30 volunteers by the state but a full roster has never been achieved according to Heidemann. The roster now stands at 23 and volunteers are always needed.
“We are looking for a few good persons,” he explained. “It’s just hard right now to get volunteers. The numbers across the country have dropped by about 20 percent in the last five years from 785,000 to about 660,000 volunteers.”
The LVFD is the only fire department in Nevada with volunteers providing both firefighting and emergency medical services. Pershing County requires all volunteers to train and become certified to the level of Firefighter 1 and Emergency Medical Technician, Heidemann said.
‘From the California border to the Utah border, the Lovelock department is the only fully volunteer fire department that does fire and EMS,” he said. “Everyone else has part paid or has contracted their ambulance service out or has paid their ambulance people. It depends on what the community wants. If they want the best service, are they willing to pay for the best service?”
The county’s four fire chiefs are now meeting to coordinate their needs and grant applications.
“Actually, we’re going to have a meeting on June 8 at Grass Valley to talk about planning for all the county fire departments and the grants that may be available,” Heidemann said. “We’re starting to work together. That’s the whole key.”
LVFD Chief Rodney Wilcox welcomed the beer company’s donation and said it will save his department hundreds of dollars. The three pallets of water will be shared with Pershing County’s three other volunteer fire departments that serve Rye Patch, Imlay and Grass Valley, he said.
The water will even be shared with the Bureau of Land Management fire crew that shares the LVFD fire house, the only such “co-location” in Nevada according to BLM fireman Eric Nolan.
“It’s one of the best mutual-aid agreements in the state between LVFD and the BLM group,” said Heidemann. “We share the station with them and we’ll share the water.”