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Looking for volunteers

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Learning by doing
The Half Moon Bay volunteer fire department trains at the Main Street station on Thursday nights. Many who participate have their sights set on a career in firefighting. Kyle Ludowitz / Review

Dedication, a willingness to give back to the community and the skills to adapt. These are among the things that make a good volunteer firefighter serving the Coastside.

During its annual recruitment, the Half Moon Bay Volunteer Fire Department is actively seeking applicants for the next round of training. Currently, the department has seven volunteers but has the capacity for 24.

“Right now, we are way below the number of volunteers needed,” said Zachary Perry, who’s been with the department for five years. “When we do not have the number of people needed, it’s harder to deliver a higher level of exceptional service.” 

As part of the Coastside Fire Protection District, volunteers play a significant role in assisting with emergency response. Perry said they are called into service about 70 times per year. The volunteers work with all three stations on the Coastside, with a response time of about 10 minutes.

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From left, Zachary Perry, Peter Bernal and Damon George practice clearing rooms in the training tower on Main Street. Kyle Ludowitz/Review

Typically, to be considered fully staffed, the volunteer fire department needs 12 people. “Right now, we are a little strained,” Perry said. Due to various transitions within the fire district, recruitment for new volunteers was delayed until now, according to Perry.

The formation of the Half Moon Bay Volunteer Fire Department started from grassroots, with only 300 feet of hose, a few buckets and some axes. In response to a serious fire on Main Street, the Hose Company No. 1 formed as the city’s first volunteer fire department. In 1897 the first firehouse was created out of a wooden shed on Kelly Street with volunteers meeting at the Odd Fellows Hall.

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A Volunteer firefighter goes through a smoky hallway in a training exercises on Thursday night at the training tower near headquarters on Main Street in Half Moon Bay. Kyle Ludowitz/Review

 By 1926, a fire district was formed and the department reorganized. Ten years later the site for the historical firehouse was purchased. During several decades the fire district expanded before the Half Moon Bay Volunteer Fire Department was officially incorporated and made retroactive to its start date of Dec. 13, 1899.

The volunteer commitment requires more than 200 hours of training and continued certification. During emergencies, volunteers can be deployed in a variety of ways, often for water and fire rescue.   

If firefighters are responding to a call, volunteers may be asked to staff the office to file paperwork or respond to any other calls. Additionally, volunteers who do respond to an emergency will be assigned to any task the incident commander needs performed.

Perry said volunteers have an option to ride along with paid firefighter staff, acting as equals in performing necessary duties.

Perry works seasonally as a firefighter with Cal Fire and during other months as an ER technician. The goal for Perry, a Half Moon Bay resident, is to become a career firefighter. While the volunteer program is beneficial for people who have interest in becoming emergency responders, it is open to anyone who has a commitment to service on the Coastside. 

The volunteer fire department holds training sessions, usually at 7:30 Thursday evenings, and invites interested applicants to attend to learn more about the program.

“It’s a forever changing job,” Perry said about his time serving as a volunteer. “It’s about serving and giving back to your community.”

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