Volunteer firefighters play a crucial role in stopping the spread of wildfires in Idaho

Posted at 3:20 PM, May 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-07 12:19:48-04

IDAHO CITY, Idaho — The Idaho Department of Lands is preparing for the fire season; this state agency manages a large area from Boise north to Garden Valley in between Highway 55 & 21.

However, when a wildfire sparks up, it's the rural volunteer fire departments who usually are first on the scene, they play a significant role in stopping the spread of wildfires.

"The relationships with the local fire departments are critical to our success on the fire lines," said Casper Urbanek from the Idaho Department of Lands. "

Moving along Highway 21 north, there is the Robie Creek Volunteer Fire Department, Wilderness Ranch, Clear Creek, Thorn Creek and Idaho City Volunteer Fire Departments.

We caught up with Clear Creek Fire Chief Sam Bonovich when his department helped the American Legion conduct a special flag retirement ceremony, and the Legion named Bonovich their Idaho firefighter of the year in 2019, he has been with the department for 15 years.

"When I first started, I thought it would be fun," said Bonovich. "I didn't realize just how much work goes into being involved as a volunteer."

Volunteer firefighters don't get paid, most of the chiefs fill those roles because nobody else wants the job and a surprise fire or medical call could make for a tough day at work on the following day.

"If you get a call at 2:00 a.m., you are out of your bed doing your job, said Bonovich. "You are in service 24/7."

Bonovich is retired, but his work in the department continues and that helps the Idaho Department of Lands respond to a wildfire.

Volunteer fire departments conduct the initial attack on a wildfire, but they also provide Urbanek and his crew with intel and what to expect helps them coordinate the right resources to put out the fire, it's an essential partnership for fighting fires in Idaho.

"We've become friends as well, and it's nice when you show up to a fire, and you have somebody like Sam," said Urbanek. "You can go up to Sam and say where do you need us? How can we help you? We work together in a unified command situation, and it's just really neat to have those kinds of relationships."

Bonovich also wanted to thank the Idaho Department of Lands because they provide the fire trucks, the necessary equipment and the training for his crew.

Urbanek told us during the last five years the volunteer departments he works with have exponentially improved in fighting wildfires, and it's an important resource in those remote areas.