A Firefighter’s Commitment to the Community: The Story of Local Firefighting (Part 4)

A Firefighter’s Commitment to the Community: The Story of Local Firefighting (Part 4)

Black and white print of firefighters at a flaming car crash on the highway. Written on the back is "Flaming crash no death Dec. 19, 1969 Left to right Mike cantwell, Steve Zubatch, C Woluntesh". Photo courtesy of Rock Springs Historical Museum.

SWEETWATER COUNTY– Not every local firefighting agency goes back to before the turn of the 20th century. One local agency dates from just before the turn of the 21st century.

“Sweetwater County Fire District No. 1 was formed in November of 1994,” Chief Scott Kitchner said.

“Our fire district is 2,000 square miles and stretches from milepost 96 on I-80 to milepost 149 on I-80. We also cover to milepost 15 on U.S. 191 north and milepost 19 on 191 south. We cover until milepost 20 on Highway 430.

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“We also have a contract with Reliance Fire District and cover emergencies in Reliance…We have four fulltime and 42 paid per call firefighters on staff.

“We’ve had large wildland fires, train fires, and industrial type fires and structure fires but none that really stand out anymore than the others,” Kitchner continued. “We have been extremely lucky over the years to not have any of our firefighters killed in the line of duty.”

Sweetwater County Fire District No. 1 Fire Chiefs

  • Bill Wonnacott 1995-2005
  • Jim Wamsley 2005-2015
  • Scott Kitchner 2015-present

The current Sweetwater County Fire District No. 1 station.

Still a Challenging Profession

Firefighting remains a challenging and dangerous way to earn a living, and not just because fires are inherently dangerous. Firefighters can have health problems earlier and more often than individuals in less perilous professions.

“Firefighters, and to a lesser extent police officers, have significantly higher incidences of cancer than the general population,” Rock Springs Fire Chief Jim Wamsley said.

Getting a job and a career as a firefighter requires a willingness to be at the service of others in a way that few other professions require, and then something more.

Black and white image of a man outside the old City Hall Building carrying an exandable ladder completely folded. Appears to be a modern reproduction of an older original. Photo courtesy of Rock Springs Historical Museum.

“Some colleges have majors in fire science and emergency management,” Green River Fire Chief Mike Nomis said. “Some people get into firefighting that way. It’s a six months long process to get your firefighter 1 certification through the state of Wyoming. There’s also emergency medical training.

“It takes another year to get all of the certifications for the Green River Fire Department. It takes a lot time. There are individuals who get into firefighting for three or four months and then quit because they find that it’s taking a lot more of their time than they thought. You need to be committed.”

This is the fourth and final part of a four-part series on the history and evolution of local firefighting, with lots of historic photos courtesy of Rock Springs Historical Museum and Sweetwater County Historical Museum. Check out part 3 of The Story of Local Firefighting.