East Pierce Fire and Rescue will host an orientation meeting Jan. 22 for residents interested in becoming volunteers with the fire department.
The session will begin at 6 p.m. at Station 11, in the Bonney Lake Public Safety Building at 18421 Old Buckley Highway. Those interested are encouraged to bring their spouses.
Volunteer applications for East Pierce must be completed and returned by the 22nd.
“The orientation will outline the requirements for becoming a firefighter, emergency medical technician (EMT) or support volunteer,” said East Pierce Volunteer Chief Jake Doty. “We will also cover the duties and responsibilities of each.”
East Pierce is unique in offering three different types of volunteer service. Doty explained that in most communities, volunteer firefighters are expected to do it all. However, as the duties, regulations and training requirements have become increasingly more demanding, many fire departments are witnessing a drop in the number of those who choose to serve as volunteers.
“It’s fine for volunteers who want to get hired as career firefighters, but it’s a big-time commitment for those who want to remain volunteers. So we offer the opportunity to join as an EMT or support volunteer,” Doty said.
Before volunteers begin training, they must meet a number of requirements. All volunteers must be 18 years or older, possess a high school diploma or GED and have a Washington state driver’s license. They also must live within 10 minutes of the boundaries of the East Pierce Fire District, a 142-square-mile area that covers Lake Tapps to Wilkeson and from the city of Sumner to the western border of Buckley.
“We are in particular need of volunteers living in the areas in and around Sumner, South Prairie, Wilkeson and between Bonney Lake and Buckley,” Doty said.
Candidates must pass a criminal background check, plus a written and physical agility test.
Those who meet all the requirements will be notified by March and begin training in April.
After an initial 50-hour, in-service training program, firefighter and EMT volunteers will attend a 140-hour EMT training program. Those who wish to become firefighters will be sent to a 300-hour volunteer fire academy.
Support personnel will attend the in-service class and receive an additional 100 hours of training that includes basic first aid, CPR and instruction on how to safely drive emergency vehicles.
Once qualified, the new volunteers will work side-by-side with the career firefighters during major events like fires, or when an unusually high number of calls occur at the same time. Volunteers are expected to answer a call day or night and stay until their services are no longer required.
Doty explained that the department averages about 7,000 emergency calls annually. Seventy percent of those calls are for medical emergencies. In addition to fires, both career firefighters and volunteers respond to motor vehicle crashes, rescues and weather-related emergencies.
“Regardless of the type of call, we are there to take care of the community,” Doty said. “You really need to like people.”
The volunteer program is also a training ground for those who are working toward a career in the fire service. According to Doty, East Pierce has hired a number of firefighters from the volunteer ranks.
All volunteers attend weekly drills and participate in a variety of public education programs sponsored by the fire department. Ongoing training is a major portion of a volunteer’s time commitment.
“One of the things about fire, rescue and emergency medical services is that there’s a constant level of change and that translates into a lot of hours in drills and training classes,” Doty said.
In return, volunteers receive a small stipend and are eligible for a retirement plan.
“I’m telling you right now, it’s a lot of work – dirty, dangerous, back-breaking work – but it’s the best job in the world,” he said.
More information and applications are available at the East Pierce Web site, www.eastpiercefire.org, and the East Pierce Volunteer Firefighters’ Association Web site, www.eastpiercevfa.org.
East Pierce Fire and Rescue provided information for this story.