Glen Ellen has an emotional attachment to its firehouse. The tiny firehouse, a reminder of the town’s rural past and a strength of our community, is seeing some changes.
A volunteer-run organization for decades, the department has lost over half of its members to, primarily, changing demographics.
Local teenagers used to join as cadets, and work their way into the department as adults. But fewer teenagers and fewer families in town means fewer volunteers. So the volunteer model is no longer working, and GEFD will consolidate with the Valley of the Moon (VOM) Fire Department, a part of the Sonoma Valley Fire and Rescue Authority, on July 1.
Bob Norrbom, Glen Ellen fire board president, says it’s not really a merger, but rather we are hiring the VOM folks to work for us.
Glen Ellen is not immune to fire. The Cavedale fire comes to mind with its 300-foot column of smoke above the Mayacamas which took three days to manage. Many remember the loss of St. Mary’s Catholic Church at the corner of Henno and Warm Springs, and historic St. Andrew Presbyterian Church on Arnold. There’s the Rustic Inn which went up in smoke around 1975. Structure fires seem to be part of our history, as Jack and Charmian London found the morning after completing their 23-room Wolf House in 1913.
Before cell phones and pagers, volunteers were called from the fields and shops by a loud, wailing siren. That siren still perches on top of our firehouse, and signals each New Year with three blasts at midnight.
The GEFD Easter egg hunt is a rite of passage at Dunbar. Cute kids clutching Easter baskets, charge into the grass to discover eggs dyed rainbow colors at the firehouse. A giant Easter Bunny appears on the playground to the shrieks of egg hunters.
The GEFD makes pancakes for mothers and the community on Mother’s Day, an old country tradition in rural communities bringing people together and feeding them bacon and pancakes.
And, if you’ve ever woken in the night in panic to an unresponsive child, or a partner with agonizing chest pain, and you look up into the calm eyes of the firefighter/paramedic who says, ‘It’s OK, we’ve got it now,” you know the depth of appreciation the community feels for our GEFD.
What does this change mean to Glen Ellen? There will be two paid professional firefighters, one fire captain and one fire engineer with paramedic training manning the GE firehouse 24 hours a day, daily. Six individuals promoted from the Sonoma Fire and Rescue, will rotate through their shifts. The “rigs” will bear the Glen Ellen label but the firefighters will wear Sonoma uniforms. The agreement is for five years and renewable in five-year increments. The benefits to Glen Ellen are the increased level of service to the district. In return, Glen Ellen forks over $730,000 per year.
Glen Ellen does indeed have an emotional attachment to its fire department but, by all accounts, this shift was inevitable. Somehow, we’ll keep it local and personal. We’ll go down and meet the new guys, learn their names and faces, and soon their emotional attachment to Glen Ellen will be as strong as ours.