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Foundation hosts events to raise money for firefighter education

Firefighters are preparing to have a blast, and they’re not talking the kind from a fire hose.

Their new non-profit Green Valley Firefighters Foundation is launching its inaugural fundraisers this week featuring two favorite local activities — a Pickleball tournament and a formal ball, both open to the public. Plans include entertainment by The Socials, a 12-piece band popular in Sahuarita and Green Valley.

The events are the first of many fundraising efforts the foundation plans to help firefighters fulfill Green Valley Fire District’s requirement for a four-year college degree, said firefighter Chris Scheller, who is working toward a bachelor’s in public safety emergency management from Northern Arizona University. It is mandatory for firefighters who want to be promoted to Battalion Chief and beyond in the district, which covers Green Valley and southern Sahuarita.
Scheller is one of the lucky ones and hard work paid off — he got a full scholarship as class valedictorian of his paramedic program at Pima Community College. But not everybody can afford college, Scheller said, adding that without the scholarship, he would have been financially hard-pressed to continue schooling.

GVFD, where Scheller was just promoted to captain, provides on-the-job and field training. But with ongoing operational expenses and budgets tied to unpredictable tax rates, districts can’t support staff as they would like to advance their career education, district Chief Chuck Wunder said.

“Our job is centered around training,” Scheller said.

“With increased budgetary demands, educational reimbursement is one of the first areas we pull,” Wunder said.

“We’ve been fortunate in the past that other foundations have helped provide for the expenses of educating paramedics, but it’s not something we want to rely on,” Wunder said.

Firefighting used to be considered a vocational education provision, but for today’s leadership positions, candidates seeking promotions need skills to manage a multimillion dollar budget, large workforce and multi-disciplinary programs such as the nurse practitioner program the district recently launched, Wunder said.

There’s been a major shift in firefighter preparation, and the younger generation is embracing the education mission.

“I think it will be an excellent recruiting pool for kids interested in fire-service careers,” Wunder said.

The foundation plans to start with a five-member board and is still establishing bylaws, Scheller said. More fundraising efforts are under discussion, including a system by which sponsors and the public can donate directly to the foundation.

Although similar in title, the Green Valley Firefighters Foundation operates independently of the district and Green Valley Firefighters Association, which is the local union.

Kitty Bottemiller | 547-9732