The Lowell Area Fire Department kicked off the new year with a new member on the team. Chief, a golden retriever, spends most days at the station and will be trained as a therapy dog. More about Chief later, but first, a look at the department’s first quarter stats…
During the first quarter of 2022, the department responded to 244 incidents, which almost exactly mirrored the 241 incidents reported during the first quarter of 2021. This year’s calls broke down into the following categories:
- Rescue and emergency medical service: 191
- Hazardous condition, no fire: 10
- Good intent call: 16
- Fire: 7
- Service call: 6
- False alarm and false call: 14
In total, firefighters spent 1,559 man-hours responding to these calls.
The Lowell Area Fire Department covers a service area that includes the City of Lowell, Vergennes Township and the section of Lowell Charter Township running from the city limits south to I-96. However, the department will assist in other communities when mutual aid is requested.
During the first quarter of 2022, the department responded to incidents in the following jurisdictions:
- Bowne Township – 2
- Cascade Township – 1
- City of Lowell – 91
- Lowell Township – 106
- Vergennes Township – 44
First Quarter Training and Cases
In addition to responding to calls, Lowell firefighters spent 389 hours completing in-house training, and Fire Chief Shannon Witherell says close to 200 hours were spent in outside training.
Notable cases for the month included one field save, in which firefighters arrived to find someone without a pulse and not breathing. However, responders were able to resuscitate the individual, and the person apparently made a full recovery.
Beyond that, the department responded to a few significant accidents that occurred on icy roads and dealt with several chimney fires. As usual, the majority of calls were for rescue and emergency assistance rather than fires.
Plans for Live Fire Training Facility
Earlier this year, eight members of the LAFD completed the Instructor I course. At its conclusion, firefighters must pass a written exam and make a presentation to a state proctor. Then, they are able to teach others at the academy level.
Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Cory Velzen completed his Instructor II training as well as NFPA 1403 training which will allow him to conduct live fire instruction. Witherell says fewer than 100 people have this level of training in Michigan, and he believes Velzen is one of the first in West Michigan to gain the designation.
“We would like to host live fire training in Kent County,” Witherell says. He notes that it is currently possible for new firefighters to go through all their training and not encounter live fire. That’s something he would like to remedy by creating a training facility that could be used by not only Lowell but also neighboring departments.
Currently, Lowell firefighters train with live fire only when someone has an old structure that they provide to the department to be burned. “When we acquire a house, it’s a great opportunity,” Witherell says, “but it’s a one-time opportunity.”
A training facility would be made of metal containers that are stacked into a three-story structure that can be used repeatedly to simulate real-world fire experiences. Witherell calls live fire training invaluable and an improvement over other training exercises.
“We can put theatrical smoke in a training building all day long, and it’s totally different [than live fire],” he says.
To make the training facility a reality, Witherell says the department will look for private donations and grant funding. “It won’t happen overnight,” he says.
Chief Joins the Lowell Area Fire Department
No one can resist a puppy, as Witherell discovered when he brought his family’s newest member to the fire station. Chief, a golden retriever, was purchased as a gift for Witherell’s wife after the passing of an older family pet. To socialize the puppy, Witherell decided to bring him to the fire station with him during the day.
It didn’t take long for Chief to steal the show. He was deemed the station dog, and media outlets from near and far – including Firehouse Magazine – have profiled him. After a recent vacation, Witherell returned to find a new nameplate on his door for “Little Chief,” who isn’t so little anymore.
Witherell says its not unusual for fire departments to have dogs, and the Los Angeles Fire Department even has an entire division of therapy dogs. However, fire dogs are no longer limited to dalmatians.
“What we do today is different than 200 years ago,” Witherell says. In the past, dalmatians were the breed of choice to keep horses in line and kill rodents in the fire station. Now, dogs may be needed for search and rescue or therapy, tasks that may require different temperaments and abilities.
In Chief’s case, he will be trained as a therapy dog and serve both department members and the public. For instance, Witherell anticipates Chief will accompany firefighters during educational visits to various groups and at community events.
As the station dog, he will also be available to firefighters who may be returning from difficult calls. Suicides among public safety workers outnumber line of duty deaths, according to Witherell, and the department participates in The Yellow Rose Campaign which is focused on destigmatizing mental health issues. Having Chief as an on-premises therapy dog will provide another avenue of support for department personnel.
Although Chief remains the Witherells’ pet, he will certainly play a role in numerous people’s lives and has already been embraced by many in the community. Witherell buys his food and pays his vet bills, but his cabinet at work is filled with treats dropped off by Chief’s many admirers.
There is little doubt that Chief is a minor celebrity in Lowell, and if you need further proof, Witherell offers this: “He gets his own Amazon deliveries.”