Volunteer firefighters also lead battle to keep highway clean
When the emergency call comes in, members of the East Side Fire Protection District respond. Their primary goal is to save lives, property and land. When there is no call, members engage in another form of saving property and land – they clean it up.
Volunteer firefighters also volunteer to clean up a 26-mile stretch of Idaho 97 as part of the Idaho Transportation Department’s Adopt-A-Highway program. They have been cleaning highway right-of-way from the Coeur d’Alene River on the south to Interstate 90 on the north. The route follows the contour of pristine Lake Coeur d’Alene.
The cleanup teams consist of ESPFD fire and/or medical volunteers and their spouses along with a few dedicated local residents. Because their route is much longer than the normal two-mile segments that groups adopt, the ESFPD assigns two volunteers per mile.
“We discovered that when people are assigned the same specific mile each year, they take pride and ownership of their mile and reliably keep it clean,” according to volunteer coordinators.
Because of the group’s continuing commitment, the Idaho Transportation Board and ITD’s District 1 selected the rural fire protection district as the district’s 2009 group of the year. Representatives were on hand during this week's board meeting in Coeur d’Alene to accept a framed certificate and a clock fashioned from a sample Idaho license plate as rewards for their cleanup efforts.
“Because ESFPD is the driving force behind this project, we have elected to purchase our own NFPA approved safety vests for the volunteers to keep and use as long as they are a part of the road cleanup crew.”
Outings along the busy highway prove to be both entertaining and educational.
“By the concentration of cups, we can tell how many miles a vehicle must travel for a person to drink a whole latte. We are sure, of course, that it is not the driver who drinks the can of beer and tosses it out the window before beginning the next can.
“The concentrations of same-brand cans, packaging, gum and candy wrappers in certain areas along the road tell us personal stories about the people driving our Highway 97. The beer preference on our road seems to be the cheap Busch.”
Volunteers also wait for the other shoe to drop, or at least fly from a vehicle. Cleanup campaigns often result in the recovery of one shoe, but never the match. It’s a never-ending mystery that ranks up there with sock-eating dryers.
“Our volunteers take a lot of pride in their mile,” explain organizers. “We drive the highway comparing miles. We wonder how people can throw their trash out on our beautiful scenic byway. But we suppose they just always know that someone will pick up after them, whether they are at home, at work or on the road…
“Highway 97 is our Scenic Byway.
“Highway 97 is our home.
“Highway 97 is our community.”
ITD’s statewide Adopt-A-Highway program organizes the cleaning of Idaho roadsides by volunteer groups. Those groups “adopt” a specific stretch of highway – usually two miles long – and take responsibility for keeping it clean through regular litter patrols.
Approximately 1,100 groups spent nearly 57,000-person hours statewide removing litter in 2008, collecting an estimated 1.9 million pounds of litter from Idaho’s roadsides.
About half of Idaho’s highways have been adopted, leaving ample opportunities for other groups and individuals to become involved.
The volume of material collected makes a tremendous difference in the appearance of Idaho’s highways, said Sherie Sweaney, statewide AAH coordinator.
The estimated value of the cleanup labor is equivalent to more than $730,000 – savings that can be applied to other projects, improving highway safety and driving conditions.
For more information about adopting a stretch of highway, contact Sweaney at (800) 443-2878.