(Author’s note: This is the second in a series of interviews with members of the Anderson Valley Volunteer Fire Department prepared in response to requests from AV Fire Chief Andres Avila and the AVA.)
Clay Eubank is actually the first AV Volunteer Fireman that I interviewed. I wanted to interview him because he is the Training Officer and I figured that he would be 100% onboard for working with me on the story. We met at the Yorkville firehouse in their attractive community room right next to the Yorkville Post Office. Clay is an energetic and alert individual who gave me his full attention. I enjoyed hearing about his career in firefighting and I was right about the 100% part. When I finally set down my pad and pen and we were all through he told me that he definitely should not be the first interview in the series. This was confounding since his notes were the ones I now had in my hands. He explained that he has not been around that long and that a long-timer/old timer would be the appropriate choice for interview number one. I saw his point hence the interview with 30 year (and still going strong) veteran Roy Laird last week. I mention this deference and respect as it is a trait I see generally in AV Firefighters. Speaking with Chief Andres Avila, retired Chief Colin Wilson, Roy Laird, Judy Long and now Clay I see that mutual respect runs strong in this department. I am old enough to know that where respect thrives good outcomes inevitably follow. For any of you who are thinking that volunteering might be for you, plunging into a group this naturally respectful will probably pan out well.
Clay Eubank has been in Anderson Valley since 2010. His partner Sarah Farber is the Captain of the Yorkville Station. It was through their involvement with firefighting that they met at the National Fire Academy. His firefighting career started in 1991 in Capay Valley west of Woodland near Davis where he retired as chief in 2010. He was 31 when he started firefighting and was a busy man with a very active career and a family. The fire station was behind his house and two of his neighbors who were active in the department pulled him in. He told me that after his first call he was kind of addicted and in the early days he said it was an adrenaline rush. Over time he said he felt a deeper satisfaction that came from having a sense of value and purpose in his life. “When you respond you get immediate results — you’ve made a difference in someone’s life”.
In his professional life Clay worked for 30 years in the newspaper industry starting as a high school student at the Hood River Flyer where he “pulled them off” the press. Eventually he worked as Circulation Director at the Marin Independent Journal and the Ukiah Daily Journal. The Circulation Director is the one who makes sure the paper gets to the people who want to read it. It is a fast paced deadline oriented job that never stops moving. It is not surprising that someone with high energy would do this as a day job while responding to emergency calls in his spare time.
Clay told me that he really likes the people here in Anderson Valley and that he thinks there are a lot of really talented and skilled individuals living here. He explained that camaraderie is an important part of being on the Fire Department. He told me that although they may not all socialize, when they do see each other under crisis conditions the firefighters form invisible connections. These unique experiences that most people don’t have an opportunity to share create bonds that are hard to explain. He describes former Chief Colin Wilson as an “action hero” and told me several times that having Chief Andres Avila onboard is a “really, really good thing.” Since Clay is the newly hired Training Officer for the department his positive assessment of the locals, the volunteers and Fire Department leadership is fortunate. He is looking forward to the good feeling that will come from seeing trained volunteers do well in the field.
Like Roy Laird, Clay emphasized that there are lots of ways to give support to the Fire Department. If you have a passion to help there is no doubt whatsoever that the Fire Department can plug you into helping. Many of the current volunteer firefighters are retirement age so it is especially important at this time to add some stable people to the force for the sake of continuity. The situation here in the valley is very different now than it was thirty years ago when land was still affordable. However, when a fire breaks out we are all depending on the entire volunteer fire department. The physical vitality of the younger people in the department is a key piece to help put those fires out. Volunteers respond to structure fires, medical emergencies and vehicle incidents. In the summer CalFire is full force to manage wild land fires with AVVFD as back up but after the first good rains CalFire staffing goes way down and the AVVFD has a lot more responsibility. We live in a very rural place and fire is always a possibility. Needless to say the drought with record low moisture levels brings the questions of firefighting front and center.
If you do join the department expect to attend a general training once a month and a battalion training once a month. There are also Chief’s Academy trainings that take place all over Mendocino County. As Training Officer Clay, who started this job last July, will be preparing a number of specific trainings like “Pumping Operations.” Clay told me that everyone reports to someone under the Incident Command System so that firm leadership is the rule. He also told me that most calls are not that stressful and that traffic control is often a really important part of the job.
Although it is true that joining involves a significant investment of time, based on what everyone has told me the benefits far exceed this cost. Call Chief Avila if you are interested or have questions about the Department at (707) 895-2020.
(Next week: I will be interviewing either Navarro Captain Judy Long or Yorkville Lieutenant Tina Walter.)