Earlier in the year, Petersburg Fire Chief Jerod Cook, stated that he would not seek re-election to the position but was recently elected into the job for another three years.
“I wasn’t going to run again, I had planned to retire. I have been in this organization for over 25 years,” Cook stated. “I had enough members from the department that have been there for a long time and members of the community that approached me and asked me to continue in this capacity. Enough so, that even my wife, Melanie, said I should do it.”
Cook has been the chief for five years and a volunteer since 1988.
“There were three things that I wanted to try as a kid,” Cook stated. “The fire department, police department and soldier. I have done all three.”
He spent 20 years in the Army National Guard and one year overseas in Iraq.
As the fire chief, Cook supervises all of the volunteers and is the overall commander at emergency scenes or incidences.
“I feel that I will have input in most of the decisions that involve the fire department in one way or another,” Cook stated. “We do have a defined split now between the administrative duties and the department. In some ways this split makes things easier.”
The recent changes in fire department policy have not dampened the spirits of Cook and he just wishes to move forward.
“I want to make it a fun place for everyone and personally I want to mend any and all fences that may have been damaged in the last year,” Cook said. “My goal is that this be a positive move forward and we figure out where we went wrong and how to keep it from happening again in the future, as well as, not letting personal attitudes and opinions get in the way of the needs of the community.”
The division of administrative duties has changed the hierarchy of the department but he does not feel that it will change his role in the organization.
“EMS Director Sandy Dixson and I get along very well, we know how to work through our differences,” Cook said. “I believe we will be able to work forward in a positive manner for the department and the city.”
Cook explained that the department is spread thin and the volunteers that he supervises are a great group of people that devote a lot of time and energy to the community.
“On any given night whether it be a fire call or EMS call we are dealt the hand of who responds,” Cook stated. “Because it is a volunteer organization, people have jobs, vacations and other responsibilities, so we get what we get and make it work.”
He also said that generally others will come out of the woodwork if there is a situation that draws on and occasionally some of the retired volunteers will lend a hand, especially if it is a big incident.
“We have made this system work for the community for a number of years and we are always looking for other folks that have the time and energy to put into it to come and fill those needs,” Cook said.
The department will begin a recruiting drive in December, which they do once a year, to pull in a few more people.
“With attrition we gain some and lose some,” he stated. “With every 10 we pick up, we may retain one or two of them for the long-term.”
Cook explains that there are no prior criteria required to become a member of the fire department.
“We just need people that have the desire and time to put into it,” he stated. “We drill and train every Thursday night and if they wish to be an EMT they drill twice a month and the search and rescue branch is the same.”
He explained that there are different branches because he has found that very few people have the time to dedicate to all three of those branches because each one has unique training and constraints.
“We do have some volunteers that are cross-trained into more than one branch and do both,” he stated. “But there are time issues with each. We will take anyone who wants to join and train them to be firefighters or we will train them to be EMTs.”
According to Cook, Petersburg’s volunteers are made up of citizens from the community that have other jobs and have other roles in life. “This is a unique situation because the needs of Petersburg are being met by volunteers from the community,” said Cook.
The Petersburg Fire Department has approximately 70 volunteers on staff right now.
“I really only have about 28 firefighters and around 20 or so EMS personnel,” Cook stated. “I also have some search and rescue volunteers and also some that are cross-trained.”
Cook explained that the biggest need for the fire department at this time is for firefighters and EMS volunteers.
“We generally have one or two fires a year that result in significant property loss,” he stated. “But most of our calls are fire alarms for one reason or another, but we have to check them all out.”
The Petersburg Fire Department celebrated its 100-year anniversary last year.
“We have been operating under this type of organization for over 100 years,” Cook stated. “It seems to be working for us.”
He stated that the volunteers are great. There are volunteers of every aspect of the community and they have to figure out how to get all of the personalities and all of the walks of life to work together for the common good of the community.
“It does take people from all walks of life because those are the people willing to volunteer,” he stated. “Until we get to a point where we have more people than we need, we will have to depend on anyone and everyone that is willing to volunteer their time.”
Cook encourages anyone that has the time and desire to come out and become a part of the fire department.