East Pierce Fire and Rescue Foundation provides unique community services

After several years of hard work, a group of determined community members have founded the nonprofit East Pierce Fire and Rescue Foundation. East Pierce Fire and Rescue provides a multitude of services to the communities it serves, but as a tax-based entity, its resources are susceptible to depletion. The foundation provides funding to bridge East Pierce’s financial gaps. It currently focuses on three initiatives, one of which is a pilot program called Sentimental Journeys.

Sentimental Journeys is a collaborative effort between the foundation, East Pierce and Multicare/Good Samaritan Home Health & Hospice to provide terminally ill patients with the chance to embark on a journey of their choice.

The program has facilitated three journeys since it began in January. Most patients have simple dreams that seem impossible because of the need to constantly access medical equipment and medications, according to Teresa McCallion, program director and foundation president.

East Pierce provides a medic unit for transportation and the foundation reimburses the cost. The units are staffed by off-duty firefighter paramedics and firefighter EMTs. Firefighters aren’t typically versed in palliative care, but those who participate in Sentimental Journeys receive special training to assist hospice patients.

Destinations may include sporting events, a loved one’s wedding, church, or even to see the wildflowers in bloom on Mount Rainier, McCallion said. For example, a Bonney Lake woman desired one last lunch with her family at their favorite restaurant in Gig Harbor.

Family members are encouraged to attend and are given pictures to commemorate the experience. The presence of trained personnel provides emotional support by easing any fears they have regarding a sick loved one venturing into the world, McCallion said.

Sentimental Journeys is a pilot program inspired by a similar project in Colorado, the only other of its kind, according to McCallion.

Other initiatives sponsored by the foundation include free smoke alarm installations and Healthy Hearts, a public health awareness campaign.

“Public education is important to East Pierce. They go above and beyond,” McCallion said. “We’re very lucky to have that in our community but the financial burden is too much. The foundation was a community-based answer to the economy.”

Public education shouldn’t be taken lightly, she said. Statistically, if a victim suffers a heart attack within the area served by East Pierce, there is more than a 50 percent chance that someone in the vicinity knows life-saving CPR, according to McCallion. That number didn’t accrue accidentally.

Low-cost CPR and first aid classes are sponsored by the foundation’s Healthy Hearts program and facilitated by East Pierce. Additionally, every student attending high school in the area will receive those classes twice before graduation.

The foundation provides smoke alarms and East Pierce installs them, free of charge for any resident who requests them. Doing so saves lives and helps prevent major events from occurring, McCallion said. To obtain smoke alarms for your home, contact East Pierce Education Specialist Dina Sutherland at 253-863-1800.

The foundation’s board of directors includes former East Pierce members, their families and other community figures. Duane Bratvold, board member and heart attack survivor, said the services offered are priceless and he is proud to serve on the board.

“Our ultimate goal is for this to develop and evolve so that it can be used as a model for other departments. There are no words for what (the first responders) did for me and my family. (Former East Pierce Fire Chief) Dan Packer’s legacy created the phrase on the side of every ambulance, ‘Where Compassion and Action Meet’ and it’s why this foundation exists. We’re doing our part to improve the lives and safety of our friends and neighbors. Our direction for next year? The sky’s the limit,” Bratvold said.

For more information, or to make a donation to the foundation the website is, www.eastpiercefirefoundation.org.