The Pettis County Fire Protection District added three paid staff members recently.

Battalion Chief Bill Twenter came on board with Pettis County December 30 after retiring from The City of Sedalia as a firefighter for 18 years. Twenter is now in charge of training at Pettis County Fire and conducts two training session per month (station and district training). He also assigns individual training to firefighters to work on their own time.

The purpose of that is to keep their hours up for ISO ratings, which affect insurance rates for citizens.

“Right now we're at a 6, and our goal is always to get it lowered,” Twenter said.

Battalion Chief Twenter said that Pettis County now has between 40 and 45 active volunteers.

“We respond to around 500 calls a year,” Twenter said. ”It seems to go up every year as the population goes up.” Hence the reason to add paid staff. Plus, he added, it's hard for some volunteer firefighters to leave their day job and respond to a fire scene at a moment's notice.

Capt. Matthew Gardner was hired June 2 as a full timer, but has served a volunteer with the fire district for 23 years.

Gardner said that it was his goal to be paid staff at some point. “I left my full-time job as a funeral director, and when the opportunity presented itself to come on board here full time, I jumped at the chance,” he said.

As well as seeing a lot of personnel came and go at the fire district, Capt. Gardner has also seen a lot of progress over the past several years.

“That was one of the goals was to have paid staff on duty during the day. Some of the employers are better about letting them leave their job when something big comes up. But in general, it's getting harder and harder to get people willing to volunteer to do this,” Capt. Gardner told KSIS.

“You don't do it for the pay. You do it because you like to help people and help your community,” he noted.

Firefighter Irvin Yoder has two-and-a-half years experience. He joined Pettis County in August, and was hired as a full-timer June 2.

Yoder said he left the Amish, “and we didn't do that stuff and when the opportunity arose, I definitely knew I wanted to go for it.”

“I lived in Michigan, and my neighbor was on the fire department up there and they were looking for help, and he asked me to join and I did, decided to give it a shot, and I loved it,” Yoder recalled. “So yeah, it would be hard to do without it. I love it.”

There is a fire academy that lasts four to six months for firefighters to obtain their certification for Firefighter 1 and II.

Battalion Chief Twenter said that PCFD is always looking for new volunteers to serve their community. “We'd like to have another academy class towards the end of the year. So we're accepting applications online. Or call (660) 826-9058.

It used to be they had to wait for there to be 6 or 8 people signed up to conduct a firefighter academy class, but by the time that happened, there would be those who had lost interest. But now Twenter can start a class with just a couple of applicants to get them certified.

Battalion Chief Twenter said that comeraderie and morale are great at PCFD # 1. “The guys get along great. That was kind of one of the concerns when we put these guys on full time, was them not being able to hang out with the other guys. Well they are still able to hang out with them, like normal. We're one big family,” Twenter said.

Capt. Gardner gave Fire Chief Mike Harding a rave review.

“I've worked alongside Mike the entire 23 years I've been here. He's been here longer than I have. I remember when he was a captain. Mike is very knowledegable, very personable, just one of those guys you want to have right there on your back. He shows a genuine concern for the department, for the personnel, and I mean, that's evident in how far we've come, with the growth, the modern, state-of-the-art equipment and tools that we have at our disposal to do our jobs better,” Gardner said.

PCFD #1 is tax based. Chief Harding comes up with a budget and presents it to the board of directors.

“Unlike some smaller departments where residents pay annual fire dues, the residents in PCFD don't do that. Everyone in the community contributes. The taxpayers have a stake in this, too. So it's the taxpayer's equipment,” Capt. Gardner said.

Twenter noted that PCFD just recently took over the Houstonia area, which was voted upon in April. PCFD may take over Smithton Fire District in the future, he said.

It was estimated that PCFD covers 350 square miles in Pettis County. Pettis County gets called for mutual aide on average about once a month. The Wooldrige Fire west of Columbia was a prime example of that.

“We do a lot of mutual aid because we have the most portable tankers in the area, about 35,000 gallons of water,” Twenter noted, with a total number of apparatus at 35.

PCFD has eight stations. Each station has a tanker, a pumper and brush truck. The main station on North 65 is manned during the day.

Shown in the photos from left are: Capt. Matthew Gardner, Firefighter Irvin Yoder and Battalion Chief Bill Twenter.

Randy Kirby
Randy Kirby

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