More than two dozen new fresh-faced volunteer firefighters are ready to put out fires, pull people from wrecked cars and maybe even rescue a few stuck cats in Buckley, Carbonado and across Pierce County.
The class of 25 recruits graduated from the Basic Firefighting Academy during a ceremony June 21 at White River High School, celebrating the start of their time in the fire service with friends and family. The ceremonies culminated with their families and friends pinning their badges.
“These recruits came to us at the first of the year,” Buckley Fire Chief Eric Skogen said during the ceremony. “Many of (them) had absolutely zero experience, and as of tonight, they’re better prepared to begin serving our communities. … It’s truly amazing what every single one of these men and women have accomplished.”
After 300 hours of training, the recruits now know how to apply the Jaws of Life to a burning car, haul equipment through burning, smoky buildings and rescue people in need of assistance.
The recruit’s class president David Vercillo, in a speech, recalled a moment of camaraderie and bravery from their search-and-rescue practice day, which involves hours of carrying people upstairs and across hallways while wearing heavy equipment.
The hardest exercise of all involves searching rooms to find and rescue a downed firefighter, Vercillo said, and recruit Eric Bailey had to pull it off on his own. (His partner had been injured and couldn’t help in the task.)
Unfazed, Bailey “secured the downed firefighter and dragged him up two flights of stairs alone,” Vercillo said. “He came out completely out of air. Everyone was outside, and we all came to help get his gear off, help him recover and get some water.”
But there were smaller moments too, Vercillo said, like recruits Tyler Jarmon and Haley Armstrong staying late to put equipment back in its place; Hannah Dahlquist and Riley Auld helping their fellow recruits prepare for certification exams; or recruit Abbey Crain asking the important questions that “we were all afraid to ask” during the academy.
The recruits then presented Skogen with a cherry-red chainsaw as a gift for their time in the academy. Skogen, cracking a smile, deadpanned “That’s a big saw” before thanking the recruits for the gift.
New firefighter Connor McDonald, 21, said after the ceremony that he’s been interested in firefighting since middle school and never wanted to have a desk job.
Being a firefighter “means I have a second family I can go to, and that I’m here for the community,” McDonald said.
Kelcie Gahley, 28, also graduated from the academy Tuesday. She said she wants to serve the community and eventually become a career firefighter. The mental and physical tests of the training meant that “every day, you’re learning something new,” Gahley said.
Becoming a firefighter means “fulfilling a dream, and it’s also getting to provide for my family as a single mom,” Gahley said. “(And) it’s something I enjoy.”
Firefighting is a competitive field and paid jobs are highly sought-after. Many firefighters get their start as volunteers through academies like Buckley’s, working for several years to develop their skills and make sure they’re really willing to commit to the grueling field. Around 95 percent of Buckley’s firefighters are volunteers.
More than 500 recruits have been trained from the academy, Skogen said. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the 2020 academy and kept organizers from holding one at all in 2021, so this class is the first in a couple years to resume a full-time, in-person schedule.
The academy is now 20 years old, training would-be firefighters for departments from Maple Valley and Enumclaw to south Pierce County. It is typically held once per year from January to June. Graduates who aren’t already EMT certified typically take a 140 hour EMT school from September to December, Skogen said.
Those interested in attending or learning more about the academy can visit the Buckley Fire Station at 611 South Division Street on July 7 at 6:30 p.m. — you can RSVP by calling 360-829-1441 or emailing CNickson@cityofbuckley.com.
Assuming they complete the rest of their screening processes, the new recruits will be joining the following agencies:
BUCKLEY FIRE DEPARTMENT:
Haley Armstrong (Received the Most Motivational award, voted on by peers from her class)
Taylor Fletcher (Received third place award for academic achievement, and the Most Inspirational award, voted on by peers from his class)
Tyler Jarmon (Received first place award for academic achievement)
CARBONADO FIRE DEPARTMENT:
Kelsy Smith (Received second place award for academic achievement)
RIVERSIDE FIRE & RESCUE: