The Beaver Valley Fire Department is taking its place as one of the leading volunteer fire departments in the area. Like other area departments, it responds to emergency calls throughout northern Gila County.
Anytime there is a 911 call in Rim Country, Beaver Valley and others respond, explains Fire Chief Tom Zelkovich.
"Sometimes we send a unit directly to the emergency. At other times our job is to stand by and be ready to fill in for responding units if there is another call. It's all part of our mutual aid agreement, which helps give all the area's residents the best possible response," Zelkovich said.
Beaver Valley is located six miles northeast of Payson along Houston Mesa Road. Because of its location, the department is often called to assist with emergencies in Mesa del Caballo and Whispering Pines. The department also responds to U.S. Forest Service calls, especially during storm season.
"Medical calls make up the greatest percentage of our work," Zelkovich said.
"We are busy all year, but the call volume goes up during the summer because of the number of campers and visitors in the area," he said.
Zelkovich came to Arizona 25 years ago and has been a Beaver Valley resident for nine years. He grew up a few doors away from a fire department, so it seemed natural to join the fire department in 2002.
"I talked to my wife, Dawn, and my sons, Christopher, 17, and Corey, 14, and we decided to give it a try," he said.
Three years later the chief who recruited Zelkovich stepped down. The fire district's board of directors, community members and a number of the volunteers asked Zelkovich to "fill in for a while."
"I have the same problem as most of our volunteers," Zelkovich said. "I have a full-time job, which means most of us have significant time management problems. Emergencies don't respect the clock."
Zelkovich owns and operates T&D Framing, Inc. construction company.
"There are some key similarities between operating a business and a volunteer fire department, but there are some key differences, too," he said.
The major difference is with a business you have money to compensate employees. With a volunteer group you have to provide non-monetary rewards, including training, recognition and an understanding that they can't be forced to punch the clock for an eight-hour shift every day, he said.
Currently, the department has 16 trained and certified personnel. Each has gone through classroom work to earn their certification.
Six of the volunteers achieved Firefighter I and II status and two others are in training for it.
All 16 volunteers received medical first responder training while nine have completed training and certification to be Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). Two are paramedics and another is nearing completion.
"We have a fine complement of medical staff," Zelkovich said.
The volunteers take part in weekly training classes and use Saturday to train with other fire departments.
"We all share the desire to create a quality emergency response team," Zelkovich said.
"Our personnel take great pride in being able to provide professional-level help for people who are in need of emergency assistance. That pride, coupled with a common desire to help people, makes my job much easier," he said.
Two of the department's volunteers work for Lifestar Ambulance Company. Another works part time for the Payson and Tonto Basin fire departments and another volunteers for Hellsgate Fire Department.
The large number of trained and experienced personnel, coupled with a reputation for responding quickly and being nearby led to the department receiving many calls, he said.
Volunteers use their training often and that means they don't stop and have to remember what they learned months ago, he said.
It also means people who need help get emergency care from dedicated, experienced professionals.
"Our goals are to make sure our training and equipment allow us to be a strong part of the team whenever we respond to a call with other departments in the area," he said.
In addition to firefighters, there are other people important to the success of the department, he said. Including an elected board of directors, committee members, fire department auxiliary, community members and other fire departments.
"If nothing else, I have to keep recruiting volunteers to replace those who retire or move to another town. Then I've got to make sure we have the equipment and training they need," he said.
"But, even being chief takes a lot of time, there isn't a paycheck big enough to replace the feeling we all get each time we save a life," he said.