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Thu, Feb. 27

Valle volunteers fighting fires<br>along with shoestring budget

VALLE — In its eighth year, the Valle-Wood Volunteer Fire Department finds itself in a key point in time for providing emergency services to this rural community at the junction of U.S. 180 and State Route 64.

A few days ago, a $2,700 donation from the inactive Valle Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce put the department over the top for matching an important grant. With that money, the volunteers will be able to improve its services in a variety of ways.

Nonetheless, the Valle group seems to be experiencing growing pains. It can be difficult to find volunteers, dispatch operators seem to be overlooking Valle when it comes to emergencies on the highway and with all of the fund-raising that’s been going on, it’s been getting more and more difficult to secure donations.

On top of that, the big annual fund-raiser appears to be gone for another year — the Fourth of July fireworks show. A continuing drought has all but doomed the future of that event.

"We’ve had a lot of positive input and a lot of negative input, but over the years, we’ve been able to survive," Roger Miller, president of the Valle-Wood VFD board of directors, said at Wednesday’s annual meeting. "I realize there are a number of reasons why more don’t show up to support the fire department. But I thank those who do show up. Thanks to all of you for your dedication to keep things running."

The meeting, staged at the Valle Grand Canyon Airport, drew only two audience members — a newspaper reporter and a board member’s wife. Still, Miller said there are folks behind the scenes who contribute, such as businesses from Tusayan-Grand Canyon and Valle who have helped their cause.

"There are a lot of other people who help we don’t see at the meetings," Miller said. "There are a lot of voluntary contributions and donations that help."

The Valle-Wood Volunteer Fire Department began meeting in the fall of 1994 when a group of local women got together. Calling themselves the Founderettes, residents like Debbie Serpas, Lonny Greene and Lorraine Collins raised money by selling a lot of cookies and fudge.

Miller said the department was incorporated with the state the following spring. The Founderettes evolved into the Clicketts, which was basically an auxiliary group supporting the department.

"We did the bingo and the auctions and yard sales; we used to have raffles," Greene said. "Those were the most fun in the world."

When the Clicketts closed down, the group donated $1,500 to the fire department, along with some equipment. In fact, early on, the Clicketts were able to donate money for the purchase of the department’s first fire truck.

The department appears to be entertaining the idea of reorganizing an auxiliary for support purposes.

"We’ve talked about getting that back together, those who are not involved as volunteers or board members can do that to raise money through bake sales or bingo or things like that," Miller said.

Jim Greene served as president of the chamber as well as fire chief. Miller has been involved with the fire department since its inception.

Another item on the table involves the present fire station site. Miller said a new location could actually help when it comes to things like fund-raising and training exercises. There’s the hope that such a move can be accomplished in the next year.

Because of the expense of running a fire department and limited operating funds, Valle is now billing for emergency responses.

"Because better than 50 percent of our calls in previous years have involved automobile accidents, and a good number of those people are outside the community, we decided we have to start billing for responses to recover expenses," Miller said. "We’re already operating on a budget where we can barely pay our bills; there’s nothing to recover costs for fuel and manpower ... so we decided to start billing."

The department does have a plan in place that exempts contributors from being billed. Miller said those who contribute financially and in other ways, or those who become members and pay a small fee, will not be charged for responses to fires or accidents. But those who are not signed on will be charged.

Last week’s meeting included the election of officers, the first such action in two years. Miller was approved to resume as president of the board. Robert Carson and Pat Doering were re-elected to serve as treasurer and secretary, respectively. A newcomer to the board, Scott Woods, was approved as vice president. Woods replaces Dick Olsen in that capacity. Olsen, who hosts the monthly meetings in his home, will remain as a board member at large.

(For more on the Valle-Wood Volunteer Fire Department, see the March 26 and April 2 issues of the Grand Canyon News).

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