JANUARY 27, 1997
by Jeff Switzer
What began as a rural volunteer fire department has changed dramatically over the years, the volunteer contingent replaced by professional firefighters. And in recent years, the volunteer program at the Woodinville Fire and Life Safety District has dwindled. According to the district, it is in need of new direction.
The effects of the rewritten Washington Administrative Code 296-305 are now being felt at the local level, as the dual training standards for professional firefighters and support/volunteers have led to liability concerns.
"As an emergency response agency, the department has determined the use of minimally trained community volunteers for emergency response is no longer appropriate," the staff recommendation to the Fire Board reads. "This has not been stated directly; however, the numerous revamps of the program demonstrate the condition. We have been dancing around the problem for some time, but it now needs to be addressed directly."
The city of Kirkland recently made the decision to pull their volunteers off the front lines, citing the same concerns.
"I think we're moving in the same direction," said Woodinville Fire Chief Steve Smith. "But it's just a recommendation at this point. It's not going to happen tomorrow."
Besides safety concerns, the volunteer program has gradually been withering over time, down from 25 support firefighters in 1995 to 14 today, fewer than 10 of whom could be considered active.
Reasons for this include time constraints, training demands, lack of direction and budget questions, district officials said. Other criticisms include lack of guidance, satisfaction, or gratification as a participant in the volunteer program.
"The management team believes there is a strong need and a place in the department for community volunteers," the recommendation reads, noting that new roles and direction for the program are in the works.
The board was asked to require that combat firefighters attend and complete training at the state Fire Academy or an equivalent, meeting NFPA firefighter standards, and that EMTs have state and county certification.
A three-tiered program has been proposed: Trained professional firefighters and EMTs would be on the front lines; emergency support/volunteers would be out of the "hot zone" in the fire staging areas; and non-emergency volunteers could work in neighborhood programs and on dwelling inspections, and on a case-by-case basis.
The fallout from these recommendations affect uniforms and other budget impacts, long-term goals, and integration into existing programs, such as the Explorer Scouts.
"The management team believes these issues and a quality program are attainable, if a continuing dialogue is maintained," the report reads.
"The key is honest, open, ongoing assessment of any actions with the awareness that the focus must always be on the delivery of a quality product to our customers--both internal and external."