Whispering Pines Department Grows With Times, Community

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Whispering Pines is still a quiet hamlet nestled in the folds of the Mogollon Rim, caressed by the East Verde River.

Its fire district is not quite so quiet though.

The district's boundaries have expanded, it has a new building, two new substations are planned, new equipment has been both purchased and donated.

The district also has a new chief, Mark Essary. Essary served with the Chandler Fire Department for 23 years before taking the helm of the Whispering Pines District in early April.

Essary and his family moved to Whispering Pines three years ago and he commuted to Chandler. Before becoming chief, he served as a volunteer with the district for about eight months.

During the time he has been associated with the district, he has seen both the Rim Trail and Geronimo Estates areas added to the district's boundaries. Included in that are Elusive Acres and Camp Geronimo.

Essary said it was the residents of the communities that pushed to be annexed into the district. He said they discovered that as long as they did everything necessary to be annexed by the district, the district had to adjust its boundaries to encompass their areas.

Those residents are even making it possible for the district to have substations in the Rim Trail and Geronimo Estates areas, Essary said.

One property owner in Rim Trail is giving the district use of one of his buildings. The chief said it is perfectly suited for a substation, up to, and including bay doors to house one of the district's vehicles.

In Geronimo Estates, another property owner is leasing the district land on which it can build another substation to serve that area.

The district just opened a new building in Whispering Pines. It is a three-bay unit to house a brand new water tender-pumper truck, a donated water tender truck from the Rural Metro Corporation, plus the used fire engine the district acquired within the last year. There are plans to get another water tender-pumper truck so the station and each substation will have one.

The new building was constructed with the help of a $20,000 grant from the Forest Service.

The district's original building is still used for an office and to house its rescue unit and brush truck. There are plans to remodel the third bay into classroom space, which the community can use, with a portion set aside to be used as sleeping quarters by personnel.

Essary is proud of the new water tender-pumper. It is a 2002 model with a $126,000 asking price, and only arrived at the station a few weeks ago.

"We had $86,000 to work with. After weeks of wheeling and dealing, we were able to get it down to the $86,000," he said. This included a $20,000 grant from the state land department.

Essary said the district only has a budget of $160,000, plus about $110,000 in grant awards.

The Whispering Pines Fire District Auxiliary plays an important part in helping the district meet its bottom line, Essary said. Among the benefits provided by the auxiliary is the purchase of all of the uniforms for the 36 members of the department.

Of the 36, six of them have become emergency medical technicians in the last three months. The district had three before. There is also one paramedic, with a couple of the EMTs planning to get their paramedic certification. One other volunteer is in EMT school and two others are waiting to attend.

Essary said the emergency medical personnel with the district are fully equipped.

"There are not regular shifts, but volunteers standby at station and others are signed to be in-district. With remodeling the station, and having personnel quarters we will be able to man the station on a more regular basis," Essary said.

He especially wants to make sure staff is available from about 4 p.m. Fridays until 8 p.m. Sundays, when the most calls come in. A lot of people are up on weekends and there are some who just stop by, either for directions or help, he said.

The plan is to start the remodeling project before the end of June, Essary said.

The district's growing emergency medical personnel roster is complemented by volunteers trained in both rope and swift water rescues.

Next month, interested volunteers will have the opportunity to start training to be engineers and officers for the district, Essary said.

Also starting in July is a special program for the youngsters living in Whispering Pines, the Junior Firefighters program.

Essary said there are a number of youngsters already registered and excited about the program. It is designed to teach participants about fire safety, get them acquainted with the work of firefighters, encourage them with projects to help keep the community safe and give them something constructive to do, he said.

Anyone interested in joining the volunteers, the auxiliary or participating in the Junior Firefighters program can call the station at 474-3088. If no one is available to answer the phone, a message can be left.

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