Capt. Travis Lurz joined the Alliance Fire Department as a volunteer in 2006, with the intentions of fleshing out a lifelong dream and giving back.
“It’s kind of something I always wanted to do ever since I was a little kid, seeing the trucks go up and down the streets during the parades and that type of thing,” Lurz said. “I never went to the military, and my thought was it was kind of my way to give back, help out the community, that type of thing.”
Each year in October, the National Fire Protection Association observes Fire Safety Month. 2020 has seen several fire records get shattered nationwide. Alliance’s year is no exception.
Lurz said the department has responded to just under 750 calls this year, already surpassing the approximately 700 it had in 2019. In an average year, between around 125 of those calls are fire, and the rest are EMS calls. Lurz said he believes the latter are some of what makes volunteering rewarding.
“The coolest thing probably is when we have the ‘unconscious, not breathing’ calls and we actually get them back, and you can see those people walking around,” he said. “We don’t get them all back, but the ones that we do, that’s a pretty rewarding feeling.”
Alliance has three paid employees plus the chief who is also paid, making them one of just 29 in the state with any paid staffers, according to the nebraska.gov list, making up a little more than 6 percent of the 478 total departments in the state.
One of the trickiest parts of this combination crew is since the paid employees are city-paid, there is a 2 mile buffer outside of Alliance in which they can respond to calls. Anything outside of that is on the volunteers to handle. On top of that, the closest mutual-aid department is 20 miles away, making the volunteer force an absolute necessity in Alliance.
“Our fire department wouldn’t survive without the volunteers,” Lurz said. “Like the majority of the fire departments in the state, if it wasn’t for the volunteers, people wouldn’t get saved and buildings would burn down.”
The process of becoming a volunteer entails on the job training. There’s a yearlong “probation” where the volunteer completes a rookie packet, and at the end of the year there’s a quiz of sorts. Lurz said the quiz isn’t pass/fail, but rather an indication of what needs continued work and guidance. There is also EMT training, and other state-hosted events that will provide specialty training opportunities.
Every Wednesday night in Alliance, as much of the crew as possible meets for about three hours to refresh different skills.
“With our department, we have the airport, so the first Wednesday of the month is dedicated to aircraft rescue firefighting,” he said. “The second Wednesday is our business meeting for the volunteers. The third Wednesday of the month is dedicated to EMS, and our fourth Wednesday is dedicated to fire.”
The biggest challenge the department faces year in and year out is volunteers finding the time to train and keep numbers up. There aren’t structured hours for the volunteers, everyone carries pagers and responds to calls with the paid staff who trade off 24-hour shifts.
Lurz suggested the best way to get involved is by tracking down current volunteers and communicating with them about next steps. He says one of the easiest ways to spot a volunteer out in public is by looking for the plate on the font of the vehicle.
“We need help,” Lurz said. “If we could get the people, even to just volunteer part of their time, any little bit helps. People are getting worn out. Everybody in the state needs help. If you can spare even a little bit of time, go help your volunteers out.”