Volunteer firefighters, rare on the reservation, struggle to chase their dream
These heroes aren’t paid and don’t carry guns. They are the volunteer Navajo Nation firefighters.
Some of the reservation’s finest spent some time training at the Window Rock Sports Center parking lot last Tuesday afternoon. They honed their skills, specifically a drill they call the Minimum Company Standards, which helps them learn different tasks when preparing to fight a fire.
“The training will help us learn to fight any type of fire, like a vehicle fire, trash fire, small shed,” said John Williams, acting captain with the Navajo Nation Fire Department. “These guys are learning each job — engineer, company officer, and then the firefighter in the back.”
Due to limited manpower, Williams said a firefighter on the reservation does not have the luxuries larger fire departments with larger fire crews have.
“When they go back to their fire stations, they’re not going to always have three people all the time,” he said. “They need to know each and every job. So we are running through each scenario, over and over again, until they get it.”
On top of that, there are currently only 17 paid Navajo Nation firefighters with the rest of the crew made up of volunteers like recruit firefighter Nolan Smith from Tuba City.
Smith said he’s been a forest firefighter for the past three years before deciding to chase his childhood dream of becoming a firefighter. Smith said he has trained for the last two years, slowly transitioning from a “red shirt” recruit to a full-fledged “blue shirt” fireman.
The Tuba City native spent the afternoon learning what Williams calls the “bread and butter” operations of basic firefighting. Being a recruit, Smith was tasked with running the hose then donning an air mask before attacking a car fire, which actually was a picnic table.
This drill he and other firemen and firewomen did repeatedly under the close guidance of Williams.
“Teamwork, trusting another person, and they, in turn, trusting you, as well as the adrenaline and helping people,” Smith said of why he’s always wanted to be a firefighter.