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Federal grant may mean more firefighter training

Federal grant may mean more firefighter training

by MATTHEW NASH

Sequim Gazette

The volunteer push of 2010 is on for Clallam County Fire District 3.

Over the next four years, the district will receive more than $765,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for recruiting and retaining volunteers as part of the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Program.

The fire district has set a goal of recruiting 175 firefighter volunteers by November 2014.

The district has three major components to meeting its goal: hiring a volunteer coordinator, restarting a fire science program and updating its website.

Assistant Chief Ben Andrews, who applied for the competitive grant, said it's going to be tough.

"I'd rather have a huge goal and fall short," Andrews said.

Fire District 3 has 33 full-time firefighters and 69 volunteers at seven stations.

"We're stretched thin," Andrews said. "It's hard to justify spending more on administration, but this will show its value over time."

Volunteers

Long-time volunteer Steve Chinn, a retired Sequim High teacher and coach, has been hired as volunteer coordinator with grant money. He will work part time to recruit, manage and retain volunteers for the district. Retaining current volunteers is a challenge - the district lost 26 volunteers from 2003-2009.

"He is going to start exit interviews to make the program better, a good fit for everyone and better for the community," Andrews said.

Chinn will review past recruitment methods and add new ways to attract all ages, minorities and both genders.

Andrews said he finds there are three types of volunteers: those who want to give back to the community; those looking for a job - typically in their early 20s-30s; and the "Backdraft" type who see a firefighting movie and get really excited but discover the commitment and fade away.

Fire science school

The district plans to use grant funds for training young men and women looking for a firefighting career.

High school graduates 18 or older would attend a two-year student firefighter program through Olympic College in Bremerton, with most classes online, to earn a fire science degree.

Grant monies would pay for tuition, class fees, meals at training and medical exams, and pay on-call volunteer reimbursement for two years.

Andrews said the district funded a similar program in 2007-2008 and graduated five students. District 3 hired three and Snohomish County Fire Department hired two.

The district has a goal of attracting 12 student firefighters who would work 10, 24-hour shifts a month. Students could receive their fire- science degree, firefighter 1 and 2 training, emergency medical technician training, national certification, other special training and two years of job training.

Website

The third major component of the grant includes hiring a firm to keep the district's website updated for three years. The firm would create videos to target students and older individuals as volunteers.

Andrews said the website would make it easier to volunteer by applying online.

The site would provide up-to-date information about the department, joining, training and opportunities.

This component includes printing and postage for recruitment materials.

Staffing levels

Andrews said they were lucky to receive this grant because most grants are for hiring new people or rehiring those who had been laid off.

His first goal is finding more volunteers to help in the field.

The district has about eight firefighters per shift and in order to fully comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules, it needs 16 for an initial alarm assignment.

So, for each alarm, the district needs at least eight more volunteer staff.

"We find - of the available volunteers - for every six assigned to a station, one will respond to an event," Andrews said.

The volunteer project is expected to take four years at 30 recruits per year to reach the 175 volunteers goal.

He said when the grant funds end in November 2014, the district intends to budget for the volunteer position and student program and continue web services.

The district was one of six in Washington to receive a grant. District 3's was second largest behind the Bellingham Fire District, which received more than $888,000 for hiring personnel.

Clallam County Fire District 3 is based at 323 N. Fifth Ave., Sequim.

Call Steve Chinn at 683-4242 ext. 109 for more information or to sign up.

Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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