Friday, January 15, 2010


The title of this blog post is also on the cover of the Ferry County VIEW, the monthly newspaper published by Digital Documents under the editorial eye of Greg Sheffield.
The article that appeared within the The VIEW is the prime part of this posting, reproduced with permission from Mr. Sheffield, the photographs are mine, provided to The VIEW courtesy of the Curlew Fire Department. While I've only recently met Greg I can say he's a man of good timing. Unbeknownst to me Greg had been considering kicking off the 2010 series of The VIEW with an article about how to become a firefighter. He had the basic ideas in place when a tragic incident broke out in Curlew that focused attention not only on firefighters, but the terrible results uncontrolled fire can bring to our lives. When Mr. Sheffield contacted me I was glad his focus was on 'what it takes to be a firefighter'. At that time, just a few days after what is now called The Old School Fire, I was not interested in giving any further interviews about that recent tragedy. It worked out well that Fire Chief Tom Lindsey of Ferry/Okanogan Fire Protection District #13 was available when I called him with the invitation to join in on the scheduled interview with Greg. Chief Lindsey & part of the Republic Fire Department staff had responded in force to the Old School Fire to a mutual aid call from Curlew Fire. Here is the article that appeared in the January 2010 edition of the Ferry County VIEW:

A few good men (and women)
Volunteer firefighters protect our natural resources, property and lives
By Greg Sheffield
In the wee hours of Tuesday, December 22, the sharp tone of pagers abruptly tore dozens of Ferry County firefighters from their slumber. The dedicated men and women jumped from their beds, assembled at local fire halls for gear and equipment, and raced to the scene. From incident commander down to the tender operators, countless hours of planning, training, and equipment maintenance would again be put to the test.

Structure fires are relatively rare. “On average we might respond to two to three structure fires a year,” says Ferry-Okanogan Fire Protection District #14 Chief John Foster Fanning. But the stakes are so high, as evidenced by the tragic loss of life in last week’s Curlew fire, that volunteer districts take preparation for them every bit as seriously as a professional department in a large city would.

Training regimen
The Wauconda-Republic-Malo-Curlew-Danville area is chiefly comprised of two fire protection districts. FPD #13 is based in Republic, and has three fire halls and about 28 volunteer firefighters. FPD #14 has its main hall in Curlew and three satellite halls in the field staffed by 26 firefighters and 8 EMS staff. Both districts provide ongoing training for members, with a mandatory minimum of two to four hours per month, and additional training opportunities that amount to as much as 80 hours per year.
New members first learn about personal safety gear such as their protective clothing, as well as how to identify and mitigate safety risks on the scene. Subsequent sessions may focus on fire behavior, first aid, CPR, defibrillator use, how to operate specific pieces of fire apparatus, and wildfire suppression techniques. More advanced firefighters learn how to fill specific leadership roles. An engine leader, for example, not only learns how to properly place, secure and efficiently operate an engine, he must also understand how to safely direct the firefighters under his command.
Eventually a member may even train as an officer or incident commander, who must assume responsibility for the safety of everyone on site, decide how to attack a fire or methods contain it, direct resources and/or call for more, provide for the needs (such as food, water, and rest) of everyone on scene, know when to release personnel, and make innumerable other decisions.
After about three formal training sessions, the new recruit’s real training begins in the form of on-scene instruction. “In reality, 90% of training is on the job,” says FPD #13 Chief Tom Lindsey. Chief Foster likens the fire scene to concentric circles, with an innermost red center, surrounding yellow ring, and outermost green ring. A new firefighter will spend his first few incidents in the green zone, shuttling tools and equipment back and forth. Soon he might graduate to the yellow zone, operating fire apparatus. When the incident commander thinks he’s ready, the recruit will be allowed in the red zone and attack the fire directly. At all of these stages, a recruit will learn first by observation and then by participation.

There is often a misconception that a firefighter must possess superhuman athletic talent, with the ability to carry 100 lbs. of gear up forty flights of stairs in 20 seconds flat. While physical condition is both a qualification for firefighter selection and a real asset on-scene, varied roles in the department have different levels of required fitness.
“We require an annual fitness test of all our members,” says Chief Foster. “We assign one of three fitness levels based on a firefighter’s ability to walk a 15-minute mile with a reasonable heart rate recovery period. If you can do it with 45 pounds on your back, you qualify for ‘arduous’ duty; a 25 lb. load means ‘moderate’ duty, and you still qualify for ‘light’ duty if you can walk a 15-minute mile and recover. Of course pertaining to recruitment those who qualify for ‘arduous’ are more useful and therefore more desirable, but there are jobs that can be performed by those on ‘light’ duty.”
“It costs $2500 in equipment to outfit a new firefighter, so what I’m really looking for is someone with dedication who wants to serve the community,” says Foster. “I should mention, too, that women are able to serve. We have six female firefighters in Curlew.”

Additional opportunities
One of the most challenging aspects of running a volunteer fire department is making a small budget stretch as far as possible. “Many of the skills our volunteers bring to the department have little to do with firefighting but are every bit as valuable,” says Chief Lindsey. “We have buildings, apparatus and all types of other equipment to maintain from radios to the fax machine. Whether it’s going down to NAPA to get a windshield wiper for an engine or performing routine maintenance on a pump, a lot of our guys serve in a variety of other ways that keep us going. On the Curlew Fire last week, when we got there every piece of apparatus worked … that’s essential.”

Continued commitment
Joining a volunteer fire department is a real commitment. Not only are there 40-80 hours of meetings and training per year, but there is the reality of economic loss when a fellow leaves his job or business to respond, as well as loss of time with family while away on a fire. While not every firefighter is able to respond to every call, it takes real devotion to one’s fellow man to make such sacrifices to protect the property and lives of others. Fortunately there are over fifty such dedicated people in the county right now, as well as dozens or even hundreds who have faithfully served in the past but are now retired.
Firefighters needed
Both districts #13 (Republic) and #14 (Curlew) are seeking additional volunteers in all areas. Increased numbers spread the workload and increase the likelihood that sufficient personnel will be available to answer every call.
Republic in particular has a need for volunteers who live or work on the east side of Curlew Lake for assignment to the East Curlew Lake fire hall. Most homeowners insurance policies provide a discount for homes located within a certain radius of a fire station, and the East Curlew Lake hall needs just three more members to be considered fully manned so that nearby owners may qualify for the insurance discount.
If you are interested in applying for membership with one of our local fire protection districts, or simply need additional information, contact Chief Lindsey at 775-2033 or Chief Foster at 779-4766.
The Gadgets of Firefighting

Editor’s Note: Research for this article began before the recent tragic fire at the Old School Apartments in Curlew which as of publication was presumed to have taken at least three lives. The staff of the Ferry County View extends its deepest sympathy to the families of those lost.
I'd like to thank Greg Sheffield and his staff at Digital Documents for partnering with FIREWATER blog and providing the above article and "gadgets" image.
This is a good time to again thank the firefighting community for their dedication, commitment to training, willingness to step forward at very difficult times, in dangerous conditions and give so generously to their community. I am humbled by your strength & dedication.
Fire Chief, FY/OK FPD #14

1 comment:

antoine said...

Thank you for the posting, John. This is well-said: "I am humbled by your strength & dedication." Ditto and...right back at'cha.