As the fire season kicks into high gear – fueled by heavy vegetation and recent triple digit heat – Escalon firefighters are on high alert, and their numbers have also been bulked up for the season.
The addition of seasonal paid firefighters means that the department will have a minimum of three staff members on all shifts, with the Coley Avenue station manned 24/7.
“We are using all our available volunteers and reserves, they are all eligible and we have them scheduled,” explained Escalon Fire Chief Rick Mello. “They could work with anyone on any shift.”
Escalon has a rotating schedule of shifts, with the A shift featuring Battalion Chief Chris Johnson and firefighter Moe Silva; B shift with Battalion Chief Terry Pinheiro and firefighter Cassidy Bohannon; C shift with Battalion Chief Joe Pelot and firefighter Ryan Burr. Each shift now has the additional third person, drawn from the department’s volunteer and reserve pool. Volunteers are those firefighters who live within the city limits; reserves come from outside the city.
Happy to take on the extra shifts, and serving recently on the A shift with Johnson and Silva, reserve firefighter Travis Chamberlain said he is eager to gain valuable experience in all facets of the firefighting service. He recently completed his EMT training and can also now drive some equipment, adding versatility. He hopes that will eventually lead to a fulltime job in the fire service, whether it is in Escalon or with another department.
He has been with Escalon for over nine years, first as a volunteer when he lived in the city, then as a reserve when he moved to nearby Oakdale.
“I quit my job at the beginning of this year so I can pursue this full time,” he said of being a firefighter. “I got my EMT, I already had my Firefighter I certification, I just finished my drive time so now I can drive the apparatus and run it as well.”
Chamberlain, whose father was a firefighter, said his dad didn’t necessarily want his son to follow in his footsteps.
“He pushed me into mechanics,” Chamberlain explained.
That worked well for him, though, as he worked for several years for the local Tom Hillier Ford dealership.
But firefighting also interested him, so he got involved with the fire department in a volunteer role.
“I feel that my responsibility has increased,” Chamberlain said, as he has continued to pursue various certifications and acquired new sills that will help him serve the community. “I enjoy helping the people and being in a small town is pretty awesome.”
Having recently returned from a brief vacation trip, Chamberlain said he is settled in and ready for the summer and fire season workload, whatever that may bring.
“I’m looking at this as a real training opportunity,” he said.
A 2003 Escalon High School graduate, Chamberlain said he has applied at departments including Woodbridge, Lathrop-Manteca and is also looking at nearby Ripon.
“Anywhere in California would do, really,” he said.
Chief Mello noted that the department was called in to service a number of times during the recent July 4 holiday, with a couple of incidents that were believed to be fireworks-related small roadside and vegetation fires. The department may also be called on to send members out on strike teams around the state at some point during the fire season, which is expected to be busy this summer, courtesy of rapid vegetation growth due to the wet weather during the winter.
Along with Chamberlain, the Escalon reserves and volunteers on board for the seasonal shifts include Ben Carnes, Rigo Fonseca, Jennifer Cannon, Clay Ruddy, Joe Camara, Conner Coker, Anthony Munoz, Ryan Strasser, Jordan Palmer and Jeffrey Jones.