This year’s wildfire season is predicted to be busy, but the Scottsdale Fire Department already has backup.
A team of 10 city employees will trade in their ties and Blackberrys for hoses and shovels as they give up their weekends and holidays during the wildfire season, April through September.
All have prior firefighting experience. The Rural/Metro Fire Department used to have a program that allowed city employees to be on-call for backup on any fire at any time.
This is the first year the Scottsdale Fire Department is running the program, and the team will only be called for wildfires, and then only on weekends, holidays or red-flag days.
Ralph Noriega, 44, a field engineering manager for inspection services, said he has been itching to get back into fighting fires. “I never gave up on them,” he said.
“They say patience is a virtue.”
The team members come from diverse places, including the traffic department, parks and recreation, the city court and building inspection.
“It’s always been something I wanted to do,” Noriega said. “It’s a perfect opportunity to play firefighter and have a normal life, if you will.”
And they don’t do it for the money, he said. The employees do not receive overtime pay for the time spent supporting the fire department, Noriega said.
“Every guy has a reason to do it,” said Chris Ferrara, 40, a city planning inspector. “I do it as a way to give back. I love doing that type of job.” Ferrara said his regular duties don’t require much heavy lifting.
“This is pretty physically challenging,” he said.
During their shifts, team members will man the brush trucks used for wildland fires.
When not called out to a fire, they also help with community outreach, educating the public about preventing fires and building defensible space around their homes.
“We lost very little acreage last year, and I attribute that to public education,” said battalion chief Dan Bunce.
Bunce said it will be hot and dry like last year, but so far no real incidents have occurred.
“We’ll knock on wood here,” he said. “People say you’re either good or you’re lucky. I think we’re good and lucky.”
The team of city employees officially starts April 15 and will undergo a month’s training. Bunce said he anticipates adding more members next year.