VILONIA — The Hilltop Fire Department turned out Saturday for a hot event. However, it wasn’t necessary to extinguish any flames.
The event, held at the fire department located about five miles south of Vilonia in the Otto Township, was a FireWise Open House and Education Day where the community was treated to a cookout. Attendees were also provided with information concerning ways to reduce the vulnerability of homes and landscapes to wildfires.
Fire Chief Mitch Lee and assistant chief David Poston used the opportunity to talk to the public about the importance a community wildfire protection plan relying on the assistance of property owners. While the fire department responds to a few house fires and many medical runs, the district is also prone to many wildfires, Lee said, adding that "we are out in the country."
"We are a heavily wooded district — with many fire dangers," Poston shared. "The majority of our calls are wildland fires."
At noon, about 75 were in attendance at the event, including representatives of the Arkansas Forestry Commission as well as state FireWise coordinator Matt Simpson and state FireWise public information officer Adriane Harrell, members of the fire department and residents.
District Forester Orbin Barnes manned the AFC booth handing out rulers, Smokey the Bear bracelets, activity books, coloring books as well as public awareness pamphlets. Representatives from Air Evac in Vilonia also had a booth where they were providing information on the air ambulance service. Children in attendance were treated to face painting and games.
While the department is equipped with two engines, two brush trucks and two tankers, Lee said, they are in need of chainsaws and lawn care equipment as well as wildland firefighting tools. The department, he said, is often responsible for not only fire fighting but also clearing roads during ice storms and after storms.
"Three years ago, after the tornado, there was trees down on every road and all we had was one old chainsaw," Lee said.
However, he said, a couple of residents pitched in using their chainsaws to clear the way.
"We sure were glad," he added.
Being recognized as a FireWise community by AFC will also allow the department to achieve grants to help with upgrading equipment.
"We also need a new station," Lee said. "We are working our way to that."
With 17 volunteer firefighters to cover about 700 residents, Lee said, the department is also in need of additional volunteers, and they are taking applications.