A new group of volunteers was added to the Key Peninsula Fire Department last week.
Thirteen volunteers were accepted July 17, making a total of 24 volunteers, according to a news release from the department. Nine graduated from the volunteer academy, two transferred from other departments, and two joined as Emergency Medical Technician responders.
The Key Peninsula Fire Department started as all volunteers, Assistant Chief Guy Allen said, with the first engine and volunteer responders in 1952.
“Years ago we had 100 volunteers,” Allen said.
Today, there are 24 career firefighters, a chief, an assistant chief and 24 volunteers, Allen said.
“It is really challenging for somebody to volunteer their time and meet all of the training expectations and physical demands,” Allen said.
Eleven people started the program, and only nine graduated this recruitment period.
“It is a physical and mental challenge,” Allen said.
The nine volunteers who recently graduated began the academy in February and finished this month, Allen said.
Volunteers have training on Tuesday and Thursday nights from 6 to 10:30 p.m., several Saturdays, and some Saturday and Sundays while they’re in the academy, Allen said.
“It’s a tough haul,” Allen said. “They really earned the badge they’re wearing.”
The process starts three weeks after the application deadline with an orientation and initial test. Interviews and a chief review are done before the start of the academy.
Background checks, driver reviews, a medical examination, a physical ability review and blood work, including a drug screen, also are performed prior to starting the academy.
The same is true for career firefighters. The only difference is that career firefighters have to complete a psychological evaluation too, Allen said.
Volunteers attend the academy at Browns Point fire station, which hosts the training for Pierce County fire departments. The Volunteer academy is just as difficult as the state academy for career firefighters, Allen said.
“They have to perform,” he said.
Once they graduate, volunteers have similar responsibilities to career firefighters.
Volunteers work a total of 36 shift hours per month. They divide into three 12-hour shifts throughout the month. Most volunteers work the 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. shift, Allen said.
Volunteers also work directly with career firefighters. If only one volunteer is working a shift, then a career person will be paired with them, Allen said. For safety reasons, no firefighter is allowed to operate a rig in priority, with lights and siren on, alone, Allen said.
“The buddy system is huge,” Allen said.
The buddy system also helps volunteers get through the academy, Allen said. Last time, the Key Peninsula Fire Department sent only one person to the academy, and they did not graduate, Allen said. However, the volunteer went for a second time with this new group and graduated.
“He was 10 times better,” Allen said. “He’s got eight brothers he didn’t have before.”
Volunteers also are important to the department’s rating for insurance purposes. The Key Peninsula Fire Department is expecting to get re-rated at the beginning of next year, Allen said.
Currently, they Key Peninsula Fire Department is rated at a six out of 10. The Washington Survey and Rating Bureau rates a department on its ability to save insured property, not medical ability, Allen said.
The higher the number, the higher premiums for insurance ratings, Allen said.
To qualify as a staffed fire station, two people have to be working in the building, or six volunteers have to live within five driving miles, Allen said. Currently, only three of the buildings qualify as being staffed.
Longbranch has only two volunteers who live within five miles, and Herron Island has zero volunteers.
There are two recruitment periods per year, Sept. 1 through Oct. 31, and March 1 through April 30. No experience is required, Allen said.
“We need to staff the building with career people or volunteers,” Allen said. “We will mail you an application, if you would like, but step up and help us.”