Marthasville fire sees high calls in 2019, but also high recruitment

Volunteer firefighters train to lift or cut apart large equipment to rescue accident victims during a training exercise hosted in the Marthasville Fire Protection District. Diverse technical training has become a hallmark of the all-volunteer fire district. Cindy Gladden photo.
Adam Rollins
Staff Writer

Over the last three years, southern Warren County has only seen slow growth. But growth in other areas might be affecting the workload of volunteer firefighters, said Marthasville Assistant Fire Chief Sean Johnson.

Johnson attributed traffic traveling to the growing Wentzville area for a spike in emergency incidents in 2019. Highway TT from Dutzow is the fastest way for commuters and commercial traffic from Franklin County to reach Wentzville, Johnson explained. More traffic means more incidents on the state highways.

It’s a trend Johnson expects to continue in coming years.

Marthasville firefighters responded to 247 incident calls in 2017, 259 incidents in 2018, and 338 incidents in 2019, an increase of almost 80 calls within the last year, according to data provided by the fire district. Crashes make up a significant portion of incident responses each year.

Matching that rise in incident calls, Johnson said the all-volunteer fire district has been growing its pool of volunteers, doing frequent training and preparing for future threats to public safety.

The roster of fire district volunteers  has almost doubled since the end of 2016, with 56 people now available to respond to emergencies. Johnson said that is rare in a time when most fire districts in the U.S. are losing volunteers. He attributed that success to the atmosphere, quality of training and community engagement in the district.

“We encourage ownership in the organization, not just by one individual, but as families,” Johnson said. He explained that the district provides safety programs for local residents and hosts technical training courses that draw firefighters from throughout the region.

Communication through social media has also been key to community outreach, Johnson said. This has been especially true during emergency incidents.

Along with the people directly involved in fire and rescue, the Marthasville district has been welcoming a growing number of support volunteers — people who operate the trucks, maintain equipment, communicate with the public and do other supporting tasks.

The goal is to have every energetic and able-bodied person fighting fires and doing vehicle rescues, while recognizing the value of the volunteers who aren’t doing that front-line work, Johnson said.

In coming years, Johnson said Marthasville Fire staff are specifically training for the growing threat of flooding in the area. It’s a problem that local residents are becoming more familiar with.

“Marthasville’s approach is proactive, rather than reactive,” Johnson said. In particular, the district is preparing for multi-incident days.

“You’ll be doing water rescues in the Dutzow area, and then you’ll have water rescues (in Marthasville), and then you’ll have water rescues on Concord Hill Road, and then out on West Highway 94,” Johnson said, recalling such a day in 2019. 

In the past, Marthasville Fire relied on surrounding districts to provide support for such incidents, sometimes waiting hours for water rescue teams. Johnson said that needed to change.

“We needed to put more emphasis in being better prepared to serve our own community,” Johnson said.

Six Marthasville firefighters are now trained for swift water rescue, with more getting trained this year. The district has also done fundraising events to purchase a rescue boat and equipment.

With time and community support, Johnson hopes they’ll be able to deploy water rescue teams from any of the district’s three stations.


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