PENTWATER FIRE DEPARTMENT
Pentwater Fire Department is an all volunteer department serving the Lake Michigan lakefront community of Pentwater, Michigan, including the Village of Pentwater and Pentwater Township. The department maintains automatic mutual aid agreements with neighboring departments in Oceana and Mason counties. Members are certified to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) based training standards through the Michigan Firefighter Training Council (MFFTC). Life Safety is our primary goal, and all firefighters are either Medical First Responder (MFR), Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or CPR/AED certified. The Pentwater Fire Department has earned an ISO Class 6 rating for the Village of Pentwater, and supports Oceana County EMS with its Michigan state certified Medical First Responder program in Weare and Pentwater townships. There currently are 17 members of the department.
With a year-round population near 1,500 in Pentwater Township, the population explodes to over 10,000 from Memorial Day to Labor Day as visitors and summer residents return to this vacation and retirement community. Within the 13.4 square miles of land in Pentwater Township, the Village of Pentwater consists of only 1.3 square miles, surrounded by the Township on three sides and Lake Michigan on the West. Pentwater Lake divides the Village, with only the eastern portion of the Village serviced by fire hydrants. Water for firefighting must be trucked to the remaining 12 square mile area. Although our single fire station is located in the Village, most Pentwater volunteer firefighters live in the surrounding Township.
At only 13.4 square miles, Pentwater is the smallest of 16 townships in Oceana County. However, it is the most densely populated year-round at 112 persons per square mile, swelling to over 700 persons per square mile in the summer. Additionally, property values per square mile in Pentwater Township are over 8 times the average for Oceana County, and many of these properties are vacant much of the year. This presents significant challenges for a small volunteer fire department.
First mention of Pentwater Hook & Ladder Co. is in 1868 following calls for citizens to acquire hooks and ladders in late December of 1867. Pentwater Fire Department was established March 4, 1872 by the Village of Pentwater. Providing fire protection services only, the Fire Department was funded by the Village of Pentwater until the early 1990’s. With its picturesque main street, scenic state park, Lake Michigan access from Pentwater Lake, and overall small town feel, the Village of Pentwater is a popular vacation location for many in Michigan and elsewhere. The late 1990’s saw the beginning of a shift in demographics that would set the Village of Pentwater apart from other villages, towns, and townships in the area. Over the years, the demand for property and homes expanded, and property values increased accordingly.
As the vacation-retirement population rapidly expanded, financial requirements to replace aging fire apparatus and equipment exceeded available revenue sources. A fire department millage was proposed and passed by Village and Township residents in 1994. The department has continued to upgrade its facility, equipment, apparatus, and firefighter training and certifications ever since.
Fortunately, actual fire calls in this sleepy little town have been relatively low. From 2000-2005, the average fire call volume was 30 - 40 runs annually. PFD even had a streak of 3.5 years without a major structure fire in its primary area of jurisdiction. However, with the expanding vacation and retirement population, medical emergencies rapidly increased. In 2005, Pentwater was approached by Oceana County EMS, the jurisdictional county Emergency Medical Services agency, and was asked to consider implementing a Medical First Responder (MFR) capability to respond to medical emergencies in Pentwater and Weare Townships, and western Crystal Township. The total area of MFR response is approximately 67 square miles and was projected to generate approximately 240 medical responses annually.
In 2006, 8 PFD members attended national/state certification training and the MFR squad went live on June 20, 2006. In 2007, the first full year of responding to both fire and MFR alarms, PFD had 269 reportable incidents. As the number of fire and medical calls increases, the number of local residents available, willing and able to volunteer their time to the required training, certifications and 24/7 response needs, gradually declines.
Today, firefighters are required to pass a voluntary 152 hour NFPA/MFFTC training course in their spare time before official membership. Medical First Responders and EMTs require significant additional training and certification. Despite monthly meetings, recurrent training, and emergency response, they still find the time to facilitate numerous events that focus on fire and life safety for children, and sponsor annual department gatherings.
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