Half Moon Bay Volunteer Program
The Half Moon Bay Volunteer Fire Department first came into existence in 1879 and was known as “Hose Company No. 1”. Funds and equipment were scarce and consisted of 300 feet of hose, a few buckets, and some axes. In 1880 the community took up a collection and purchased their first hose cart. After a serious fire on Main Street, the community decided to continue a Volunteer Fire Department and pay for it by subscription instead of forming a Fire District or incorporating. On November 8, 1899 the first official meeting of Hose Company No. 1 was held in the IOOF Hall. Later in 1899, funds were authorized for the purchase of fire hydrants and more hose.
The Hose Company decided to hold a Masquerade Ball as a fundraiser in 1900. This was the beginning of a long tradition. Later in 1900, the Hose Company bought a fire bell and another hose cart. The bell can still be seen at the corner of Main Street and Higgins-Purisima Creek Road in front of Fire Station #40. The first firehouse consisted of a wooden shed on Kelly Street and the volunteers met at the IOOF hall.
In 1926 a Fire District was formed the department was reorganized. In 1928 the first pumper truck was purchased and the hose carts retired. In 1936 the site was purchased for the historical firehouse, 700 Main Street with the existing building being rebuilt, more equipment was purchased, and alarm boxes added.
In 1944 a new Fire District was formed that covered the area from Torres Lane in Moss Beach to Martins Beach in the South. Later that same year, the District hired its first professional firefighters.
In November of 1998, the District moved into a new fire station at 1191 Main Street and the old station was sold. It was purchased and renovated into offices.
In 1990 the Half Moon Bay Volunteer Fire Department was officially incorporated and made retroactive to its inception date of December 13, 1899.
It is a Not for Profit organization under IRS Rule 501 (c) 3.
Hiring / Selection Process
Volunteers are rarely recruited or comprehensive advertisement efforts made when bringing new personnel into the organization. The process is by word of mouth and by our program’s reputation bringing walk in people to the department. Applications are held on file until a testing opportunity occurs. The Department hires new volunteers approximately once every 12-18 months. All personnel with applications on file are notified of an upcoming recruitment effort and the timelines for hiring.
All applicants participate in an orientation session conducted by Volunteer Officers that covers the organizational expectations, program, and answers the general questions of the candidates. The attendance at this session is mandatory. The next step is a strenuous physical ability test that involves pulling hose, climbing ladders, and other fire service tasks that simulate the physical exertion needed at a fire. Successful candidates are invited to a structured oral interview conducted by volunteers and fulltime personnel. The candidates are then evaluated on their suitability and ability. Successful candidates are then notified of their selection dependent on a medical exam and a modified background check.
Retention / Attrition Issues
Many volunteer firefighter groups suffer from attrition problems. Most of these programs suffer from poorly organized training, a lack of utilization at emergency scenes, and a lack of leadership. The Half Moon Bay Volunteers participate in rigorous training that is also well organized. They respond to many emergencies and are utilized fully and without class distinction. The volunteers have an internal leadership that is strong and motivated. They are assisted in this effort by a senior member of Staff that is sensitive to the volunteer’s position and issues and provides guidance when necessary.
The initial training presented to new members of the volunteers falls into two major categories and takes approximately one year to compete:
- Fire / Rescue
The Blue Stripe (probationary) personnel attend a series of classes that include fire extinguishment, use of self contained breathing apparatus, rescue, forcible entry, communications, ropes and knots, and a host of others. A skills and knowledge list has been developed and will be used during the final examination process prior to graduation. Although Blue Stripe personnel still respond to the scene of emergencies, they can only be used in support positions until they pass probationary testing. The final exam includes a trip to the Modesto Regional Fire Training facility where all recruits will experience a live fire training exercise for one day. They will be challenged with many live structure fires and participate in the extinguishment of them.
- Emergency Medical Response
Another component of the Blue Stripe training is the completion and certification of the EMS First Responder certificate. This is a comprehensive class that is held in the department that trains members to respond and mitigate medical emergencies such as cardiac arrest, difficulty breathing, shock, fractures, and many others. This is a long class that may include classes that are held on a few weekends so that the completion of the Blue Stripe process can be expedited.
On Going Training
The typical annual training calendar revolves around the classes that are necessary to gain certification or maintain certification at the following subjects and levels:
- Fire Volunteer FirefighterFirefighter 1Driver Operator 1A / 1B
- EMSEMS First ResponderEmergency Medical TechnicianDefibrillationIntubation
- Haz MatHaz Mat AwarenessHaz Mat First Responder Operational
- RescueConfined Space AwarenessTechnical Rescue SupportWater Rescue Support
Special Training Opportunities:
All volunteer personnel are encouraged to attend and train on specialized response tactics such as cliff and water rescue. The organization takes pride in our ability to perform low and high angle rescues in the 20 miles of coastline that we respond to. The District has also started a surf / water rescue team consisting of employees, volunteers and other agency members. All personnel in the organization are encouraged to participate.
All volunteers are immediately subordinate to all full time members of the organization regardless of rank or senority. There is an open and respectful relationship between the two groups. Issues of rank and taking direction are very rare in the District.
Can perform duties of company supervisor and direct basic mitigation activities without immediate supervision. All company officers are qualified apparatus operators in addition to their supervision responsibilities.
Can drive and operate all pumping and utility apparatus in the department at a basic level. Can pump basic attack evolutions and supply evolutions. Can drive and operate the aerial. Holds all necessary licenses to drive apparatus.
Perform basic firefighting, rescue, haz mat, and emergency medical service under the supervision of a company officer. Does not need direct supervision for most tasks. Fully trained in SCBA use and interior structural firefighting.
In various stages of training to perform firefighter position. Must be directly supervised by qualified personnel at all times. Not qualified in SCBA use, rescue, and interior structural firefighting. Blue Stripe personnel do not count towards emergency staffing levels on apparatus.
Provide support services to operations personnel. Have various and non uniform abilities and qualifications. Support Personnel do not count towards emergency staffing levels on apparatus.
Each volunteer is tested annually on knowledge and skills that are required for the particular rank that he / she holds. There are four tests that comprise all of the knowledge and skills necessary for the volunteer program, those being: Support, Blue Stripe, Firefighter, Apparatus Operator, and Captain. It is important to note that the higher the rank that the individual volunteer holds, the more competency tests he / she will take annually. An example is the person whose rank is Apparatus Operator, they will take the Blue Stripe, Firefighter and the Apparatus Operator tests each year.
In the event that the knowledge, skills, or ability diminishes during the course of the year and the volunteer fails the competency test(s), they will be demoted to the lowest rank that they have demonstrated competency for the year. They will then be eligible for reinstatement at the next competency test held the following year.
Function at Emergencies
- Staff Apparatus
During emergency callbacks (General Alarms) one of the three companies is assigned to respond to the station. The assignment is rotational based on what month it is. Each volunteer company shares the responsibility of station coverage equally. The “in house” company has the responsibility of staffing a reserve engine and responding to any other alarm that occurs in the District. This company would also be the next company to the scene in the event that the incident that initiated the General Alarm escalates and additional resources are needed. This company has the responsibility of responding to any fire, EMS, Haz Mat, lock out, citizen assist, or rescue incident. Their training level must be appropriate to handle the task before them.
- Emergency Scene
The remaining 2 volunteer companies are to respond to the scene and report to the Incident Commander. Once on scene, the personnel will be assigned to a functional or geographically based assignment and they will work at the incident until it is terminated. These volunteer members are assigned tasks as nay other member of the department and are treated the same. Volunteer Captains may be assigned to supervisory tasks at the incident, as an aid at the command post, or may be working at another incident assignment.
- Greater Alarm Plan
The HMB reserve engine is one of very few that is included in the San Mateo County Greater Alarm Plan. In the event that the reserve engine is staffed, it is subject to response to mutual aid requests from other organizations within the County. This is a good indication of the expectations and competency level that are part of the volunteer program.
All volunteers have the opportunity to ride a long with in service companies as desired. There is no minimum requirement to ride with the companies. Each volunteer is encouraged to schedule a date and time period for working with the company. Once on the engine during a ride a long, each volunteer participates fully with all company activities. All volunteers must be in uniform when doing a ride a long. There is maximum time limit for this program.
Instruction and Instructors
Each class that is held is announced in a monthly training schedule that details the subject, location and the time of the class. Arriving promptly before the start of the class, paying attention, and participating fully is a requirement of the volunteer program.
Periodically, the different ranks will train at separate locations (on the same night) in order to provide a smaller group and a targeted audience. At the conclusion of the drills, all the volunteers will reconvene and continue with business and social activities
Only qualified personnel are allowed to teach at volunteer’s drills. Frequently, Chief Officers, Captains and Paramedics are teaching structured, interesting, and challenging classes that are aimed at reviewing or improving skills and knowledge. Volunteer Captains and other qualified personnel also contribute to the teaching of subjects.
The Blue Stripe volunteers are typically trained separately for a period of time and are taught by the Paid personnel and Chief Officers. One person on each shift has been assigned to be a training coordinator for the Blue Stripe personnel. This helps in making standardized and complete presentations on these important subjects.
All volunteer personnel are issued a complete set of structural turnout equipment (pants, boots, helmet, gloves, helmet etc.) and a complete set of wildland turnout equipment (pants, coat, helmet, gloves, goggles etc.). In addition, those members that are on the water rescue team also have a wetsuit and other water rescue equipment assigned to them (bathing suit, wetsuit, fins, mask, snorkel, rescue tube, booties, etc.). There is no equipment that is purchased by any volunteer, all equipment is provided by the District.
The District provides a uniform for each volunteer. The volunteer uniform consists of a pair of uniform pants, uniform shirt, volunteer T-shirt, safety work boots, belt, badge, and a name tag. Each volunteer will also be issued a pager to alert him / her of all calls that happen in the District and when assistance is needed.
The volunteers have elected to develop a variety of T-Shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, baseball caps, drinking mugs, etc. with a volunteer logo on them. They are purchased by individuals and may be worn with the uniform if appropriate. All clothing etc. that is worn with the uniform must be in good condition and professional in appearance.
Uniforms and protective clothing maintenance are the responsibility of the volunteer. Protective clothing can be washed and maintained at the fire station. Inspections are conducted periodically to assure that equipment is in good order and good appearance.
Training Reimbursement Program
The Board of Directors and Chief Officers highly support training efforts outside of the organization. The District has a policy of refunding tuition and materials for fire science classes at the College of San Mateo or other similar training. Requests can be made for partial or complete sponsorship to and EMT or Paramedic program.
Several volunteers attend outside training sessions, trade shows, etc. and are sponsored by the District. Some volunteers in the past have been sponsored at both the pre-service and in-service fire academies at the College of San Mateo.
Program Minimum Requirements
- Age / Education
The minimum age for firefighters in the State of California and in the District is 18 years of age. Each candidate must also be a high school graduate or have a G.E.D.
- Living Restriction
All volunteers must reside within the Coastside Fire Protection District Fire Protection Districts or the immediate surrounding Coastside area. All volunteers should be able to respond to one of the 3 stations within 10 minutes travel time.
Federal Law (OSHA) prohibits any firefighter from having facial hair that is located at the SCBA mask facepiece seal. No beards, goatees, sideburns, or mustaches that exceed the limit of the facepiece seal will be allowed.
- Vehicle for Transportation / Drivers License
Each volunteer must have his / her own reliable transportation. Each must have a valid Class C California Drivers License minimum. If the volunteer aspires to be an apparatus operator or company officer later, then a Class B (Firefighter Exempt) license is required. The District pays for all drivers license upgrades related to the volunteers job classification and has a DMV certified driving evaluator on the staff. The District participates in the DMV “Pull Program” where driving records of employees are sent to the District at random for review. A valid license must always be in possession of the volunteer at all times.
- Callback Response %
The volunteers were requested to respond to the scene of emergencies and to cover station(s) 100+ times in 1997. 34.5% of the requests were due to simultaneous alarms occurring on the Coast, 54.5% due to First or Greater Alarm incidents, and 11% due to another agency requesting mutual aid from our District. On each of these calls for service, volunteers were requested to respond to the scene to provide assistance and 1 company to respond to the station to cover reserve apparatus. 56% of the General Alarms occurred during “prime time”, that being 06:00-18:00. The other 44% occurred during “non-prime time” or 18:01-05:59.
The volunteers are expected to maintain a 25% attendance at General Alarms. This is monitored annually. If the response percentage falls below standard, then the volunteer is counseled as to why the problem exists. Extenuating circumstances are taken into account. If the below average attendance occurs for long periods of time and is “the norm” for the individual volunteer, then they will be asked to resign.
- Training Session Attendance
The volunteers train on each Thursday night from 20:00-22:00 with the exception of holidays and business meetings. There are 7 business meetings scheduled on Thursday nights throughout the year and typically 3 holidays fall on Thursdays. Volunteers must attend 70% of the drills each year minimum. This means that volunteers that meet the minimum requirements of the program attend 31 drills per year or average 2.5 drills per month minimum.
- Social Involvement
There are 7 social events planned though the course of the year. The attendance to all of these events is not mandatory, yet each volunteer is expected to attend some of the events and assist with the set up and planning. An exception is Pumpkin Festival weekend, where all volunteers must participate in the fund raising, parade, and operation of the dance.
Organization / Bylaws
The Constitution and By Laws of the Half Moon Bay Volunteer Fire Department were first adopted in 1940. Since then they have been amended and revised several times. The last revision was completed in 1994. The By Laws set forth the organization of the group, identifying duties of officers, membership, suspension probation, and other important operations of the volunteers.
The volunteers elect a 5 person Executive Board to manage the operations of the group. They include a President, Secretary, and a Treasurer. The Executive Board is elected once per year and meets on an as needed basis. The Executive Board is responsible for the creation and oversight of the volunteer budget. All requests for expenditure are voted and approved at Business Meetings.
The Half Moon Bay Volunteer Fire Department has a tax exempt (non-profit) status with the IRS and the Franchise Tax Board. Although they are not a charity, they can earn moneys etc. without paying income taxes on the revenues. The single largest fundraiser during the course of each year is the operation of a booth at the annual Pumpkin Festival and a dance held the same weekend.
The volunteers are asked to serve on various sub-committees on behalf of the group. They consist of:
- Training Committee
- Uniforms / Hats Committee
- Columbia Muster Committee
- Others as needed
- Scholarship Committee
- Retirement Committee
- Pumpkin Festival Committee
Antique Fire Engine
The volunteers maintain and operate an antique fire engine (1947 Van Pelt) that was in service in the District and is now used for parades, burn runs, funerals, and department events. The “antique” is operated exclusively by the volunteers, is well taken care of, and is an attractive piece of the department’s history.
The volunteers return a significant amount of money each year to the community in the form of charity, grants, scholarships, etc. Some of the regular recipients of these funds are the following people or groups:
- Volunteer Firefighters in need
- Little League
- High School Scholarships
- Alisia Ann Rusch Burn Foundation
After each drill on Thursday nights, the volunteers go to the IDES hall. The IDES allows the use of a meeting room for the volunteers and has done so graciously for many years. There is a long-standing relationship between the volunteers and the IDES Society. The volunteers will socialize and have a drink for an hour or so to facilitate the camaraderie of the group. Frequently there are snacks or food served. The Executive Board will sometimes meet to address a limited number of issues or problems during this time period.
Pre planned (annual) social events:
- February - Richie Fig Recognition Dinner
- June - “June Feed” Appreciation Dinner
- August - Volunteer / Paid Softball Game
- September - Volunteer Family Picnic
- November - Ladies Auxiliary Dinner
- December - Tom and Jerry Social
Various dinners are held (infrequently) for both paid and volunteer members that retire from the organization. These are special purpose events that celebrate the service and effort put forth by the retiring member(s).
- May - Columbia Muster
- January - East - West Shrine Game
- December, January, February - IDES Cioppino Dinners
- Football Season - 49er Games at IDES Hall
The District is presently building phase 1 of a new headquarters building at the corner of Main and Higgins Purisima Streets. Located at this site in phase 2 will be a building dedicated for the use of the volunteers for social meetings, storage of their antique, memorabilia, and pool table. The completion of this project is eagerly anticipated.
The Half Moon Bay Volunteers are entirely not compensated for their time, effort, or work. There has been a very long-standing tradition of selfless community service that they take great pride in. The District does not supply training and incident response time, money for gasoline in personal cars, etc.
Presently the volunteers are covered under the following insurance:
State Workers Compensation
- Pays all medical costs for work (fire service) related injury or illness
- Pays 75% of the volunteers’ wages at his/her regular job, up to $490 per week.
- Total disability is covered up to $1,000,000 per occurrence
- Death Benefit: 1 Dependent $125,000; 2 Dependents $145,000; 3+ Dependents $160,000
Public Safety Officers’ Benefit Act
- Benefit to survivors of $100,000 for a public safety officer (includes volunteers) whose death is a direct result of a traumatic injury sustained in the line of duty. The same benefit is paid in the event of the traumatic injury in the line of duty causing total disability.
District’s Private Insurance
- Death Benefit: $2,000
- Pays $100 per week for loss of wages due to disability for a maximum 104 weeks
The typical prospective volunteer joins for one of two major / common reasons. They typically join in order to pursue the fire service as a profession or in order to provide community service. Both reasons for joining are encouraged and supported. Typically, when determining who will become part of the organization, a fairly even mix of both groups is sought.
There is a plan in place to be initiated at the beginning of 1999, to create a new position in the department that provides an intermediate step between volunteer firefighter and fulltime professional firefighter. The position will be as a fulltime EMT / Driver on the proposed Ambulances that Coastside Fire Protection District will be operating. This position will be fully paid and with benefits. Due to the need to hire paramedics with extensive fire service backgrounds, the opportunity for members of the volunteers to compete for fulltime positions is difficult. This would assist them in having a position to work in while they are acquiring the experience and knowledge (with the help / sponsorship of the department) in order to compete for fulltime positions.
The District has a long history of recruiting from the volunteer ranks. Many of the present and past fulltime firefighters in the department started their careers in our own Volunteer organization. Some have even gone on to serve as members of the Board of Directors of the District.
This paper was designed to provide a general description of the Half Moon Bay Volunteer program and the information necessary to understand it. The volunteers are a very motivated group of members of the community that provide an extremely valuable service to the department and their community. The fire department that the community has come to know and trust is in large part able to provide these services because we have a dedicated cadre of trained people (fulltime, volunteer, and Staff) to help, respond, and act when emergencies occur. The decision to become a volunteer should not be taken lightly. There are significant expectations and time impacts on all of the members. Family members of prospective volunteers should also be aware of the commitment that is required.
Few things in life can be more true than the saying “You get out of it, what you put into it” when applied to the Half Moon Bay Volunteer program.
Questions should be directed to the Battalion Chief - Operations or the President of the HMB Volunteers. Both can be contacted at 726-5213. Applications can be obtained at the Administrative Offices of the Coastside Fire Protection District at 1191 Main Street, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019.