Tell me a little bit about your experience in volunteer fire fighting.
“My name is Rocky Infanger and I am the chief at Wolf Creek/Craig Fee Service Area. The department covers 450-square-miles in Lewis and Clark County. I have been at the department since 1985, so I am entering my 34th year volunteering. I joined right after I returned from my service in the army.”
What made you decide to volunteer? Any specific events/influences?
“I was just out of the army and wanted to help my community. One wildfire was all it took. I started as a volunteer and I am still a volunteer. I spent 20 years as an EMT prior to retiring, I worked for DNRC on a fire engine crew, and I worked as a contractor. My experience has taken me from Florida to California. I also worked for Montana Prescribed Fire Services working prescribed fires in the state. My job has always been centered around mitigation. It is important to educate people about the dangers of fire and how to prevent them.”
Why did you chose to work in this department specifically?
“I chose to work in this department because Wolf Creek is my home. I started the first grade in Wolf Creek, and returned after high school. After the army, I moved back and I have been here ever since. I joined because I wanted to help my community. The department needed volunteers and I was ready to step in.”
What do you feel you have gained through your service?
“I have gained a lot of knowledge. I have gained a lot of friendships. I have gained a lot of self-confidence. I have gained a lot of everything. There are so many parts to this job that allow personal growth to happen. I have also gained precision and the ability to make difficult decisions. In my service, I have to make a lot of split second decisions, and they must be right. There is no room for error.”
What are the greatest challenges you have faced?
“Coordination is challenging because we have to track where volunteers are. Volunteers have their own lives, jobs, and families. This delays response time and can make coordination harder to do. I also have 95 homes in my jurisdiction accessible only by boat. In winter, this poses a unique challenge since the water is completely frozen.
The department responds to multiple types of incidents, including hazardous materials response, work on interstates, medical response, and fire suppression (both structure and wildland). We have experienced a change in expectations over time, which means that we train to the same standard as well-staffed, paid departments.
Overall, it is hard to see the things that I have seen. In my time serving, I have seen devastating car wrecks, fires, and medical emergencies-there is gruesome stuff out there. It is hard to forget some of the things that I have seen. Wherever I go, there is a memory or a story.”
What keeps you volunteering? What keeps you in this department specifically?
“I continue volunteering because this type of work is exciting. It is impossible to predict what comes next because no two calls are the same. Volunteers are constantly training and learning. I volunteer in Wolf Creek specifically because I work and live within my jurisdiction. I have no desire to leave. We raised our kids here and this is where I am from. Wolf Creek is beautiful and I want to protect it.”
What are some things that you have learned being in a leadership role?
“I have learned that it is important that I listen to the needs of the volunteers serving our community. I don’t want to overwhelm my staff. One of the risks of acquiring new volunteers is overburdening them too quickly. It is important that volunteers remain interested in their work and can manage their time effectively. Quality training keeps people interested.”
What is a quality that you recognize in volunteers?
“Within every volunteer exists a desire to give back to communities. Volunteers almost always come to me asking how they can help.”
What advice would you give those interested in volunteering?
“I would advise those interested to try it. Volunteers can gain valuable knowledge and skills which can be applied at home, work, and life in general. The tools that you can gain help you take care of yourself and the things that you care about.
It is important to ask what you can do to help your local department because people are always looking for you. Various roles exist, such as taking calls, reporting, and EMS. There is a place for everyone in departments, and they can never have enough volunteers.”