One of my first assignments as a Missourian reporter was to familiarize myself with Columbia and get to know the community I’d be covering. In order to do this, my editor assigned each member of the public health and safety beat a different organization to cover.
For this particular assignment, I was selected to cover the Boone County Fire Protection District. I got in touch with Public Information Officer Gale Blomenkamp and set up an interview time. Blomenkamp happened to be one of the most down-to-earth, friendly public officials I have ever met. We spoke for over an hour about all facets of the Fire District. After the interview, he graciously introduced me to Chief Olsen and the other employees around the office. I could definitely tell that Blomenkamp loved his job and was very prideful of the Fire District— and for good reason.
As the interview progressed and my questions became more in-depth, I began to develop a few story ideas. It’s amazing how many programs and services the Fire District is able to provide while operating on only a $3.7 million dollar annual budget, compared to approximately $15 million annually for the Columbia Fire Department. Of course, the spread is largely a result of the Fire District’s firefighters being volunteer, while the city’s firefighters are paid. Nevertheless, Boone County taxpayers are definitely getting their money’s worth by supporting the Fire District. With 15 stations spread across the county, the Fire District ensures that rural areas receive the same quality of fire protection as inner-city Columbia.
I think another interesting story would be a feature on firefighters that have used the Fire District as a stepping stone to future careers in the profession. Blomenkamp mentioned that many of their volunteers have went on to become fire chiefs across the country. The Fire District offers a plethora of free training services to not only aspiring firefighters, but EMTs and Missouri Task Force 1 volunteers as well. I think it would be interesting to find out how former volunteers have found success after leaving the Fire District. This would help show Columbia citizens thinking about a career in the public safety how to get experience in the field without ever paying for training programs. They can have just as much success by simply volunteering and working their way up the ladder.
Blomenkamp also mentioned that the Fire District will need to upgrade apparatus in the near future. While he wouldn’t specify a date, he’s a little concerned about having 20 year-old trucks running day-to-day calls. Plans are also in the works to expand their stations to accommodate for more residence rooms. These could also be potential stories.
In addition to Chief Blomenkamp, I was also able to speak with Station 3 firefighter Mark Alexander. At age 20, Alexander was the youngest on staff at Hallsville and had only been with the Fire District for a little over a year.
During the interview, Alexander mentioned how important it is for the Fire District to maintain a good public image. Without taxpayer money, the Fire District would cease to exist. As a result, it’s important to keep the trucks clean and allocate the public’s money in the most important areas. If they don’t, the public will be less likely to fund the district in the future because they are misusing resources and showing careless behavior.
Another interesting story idea would be a feature on young adults who join the Fire District. Similar to Alexander, many 18-25 year olds choose to join the Fire District because they provide them with a free place to live. Many aspiring firefighters choose to live at the station because they can’t afford a house or they don’t have a family to provide for. It’s cheap living, and they also gain valuable experience and training in the process.
Overall, I learned a lot about the Fire District by speaking with both Blomenkamp and Alexander. Both were extremely kind and I look forward to working with them throughout the semester.