Burning barriers

Age is no limitation for three Sequim men over the age of 60 that completed the training to become volunteer firefighters for Clallam County Fire District 3.

Steve Miller, Brad Buchser and John McKenzie, known as the “Elder Crew,” stood by 17 other recruits on April 12 for the 17-1 Recruit Academy Graduation ceremony for Clallam County Fire District 3.

Recruits had to train two nights and one full day each week for three months practicing skills such as throwing ladders correctly, how to take a hydrant, advancing attack lines and putting on self-contained breathing apparatuses within 60 seconds.

Miller, 65, said some of his other recruits were just graduating high school. He said becoming a volunteer firefighter means a lot to him because he has no background of fire service in his family.

“I’m a civil engineer and I learned a lot here,” he said. “There’s a lot more of a relationship between firefighting and engineering than you would think.”

He explained he commiserated with Buchser and McKenzie in learning the skills of becoming a volunteer firefighter. Miller said it was not easy to pick up the basic skills and struggled in the academy, but the Elder Crew practiced working on the skills together.

“It was difficult but anything that has value you have to work for,” Miller said of the experience.

During the graduation ceremony, Miller received the Perseverance Award and was recognized for spending extra time outside of class to practice the skills required to graduate.

Unlike Miller, Buchser and McKenzie both have previous experience as firefighters.

Buchser, 61, was a forest firefighter on a hot shot crew for three years in Southern California. His last year included working with night-flying helicopters and heli-attack.

He said at his age, “it’s time to start thinking about community payback.” He believes becoming a volunteer firefighter is a way to give back to the community.

McKenzie, 62, was a firefighter for 10 years in Pittsburgh, Pa., and said he missed being in the fire service.

He is a Diamond Point resident and said there is a need for firefighters out in that area, but coming back to firefighting was one of the hardest things he has done.

Now that he has officially graduated, he is hoping his experience can inspire others to “understand anyone can be a firefighter.”

More recognition

Of the seven female recruits that graduated, Amanda Slowey and Rashaya Donnell were two recognized in the academy. Slowey received the Most Inspirational Award and Donnell was given the Company Officer Award.

Slowey graduated as a firefighter and EMT and said receiving Most Inspirational was a surprise.

“I had a great time and a lot of fun,” she said.

Slowey trained and graduated in the same recruit class as her husband Sean. They both completed the training to become volunteer firefighters for Clallam 2 Fire Rescue. She explained it was nice to share the experience with her husband as the training requires them to spend a lot of time away from home.

Slowey said she went to EMT school and wanted to continue her education and serve the community. She stated she strictly wants to remain a volunteer firefighter.

Tyler Gear, another volunteer recruit that went to EMT school with Slowey, won the Bulldog Award for showing dedication, confidence and always being willing to do more than expected.

Gear said it is nice to be done with training and he is planning on going for a career in the fire service.