Northwest NEWS

November 29, 1999

Front Page

Experience level of volunteer firefighters is dropping, says fire chief

Busy lifestyles cited

by Lisa Allen, Valley View editor

   DUVALL--They are the ones we call if we have a heart attack, are in an accident or if the house is on fire.

   In years past, they were local store or business owners, mechanics, or city employees. They lived in the city and worked in the city. Now, due to Duvall's current demographics, they are more often computer programmers, engineers, or other professionals.

   They are part of the changing face of the volunteer firefighter.

   Today's volunteers are also better trained than their previous counterparts. Training is much more sophisticated, complex, and time-consuming than it used to be. Volunteers are also on call most of the time.

   The result is, many volunteers don't stay with the department as long either, and that has resulted in a big problem for fire district officials.

   "The volunteers are well trained," said Fire District 45 Chief Bud Backer. "But on average, they only see about 50 to 60 calls a year ... then they may quit, so the level of experience that they have is not as high as it should be."

   Backer also factors in the busy lifestyles of today's volunteers. "They commute long distances and are involved with Little League or Scouts or are doing other things. They just don't have the time to stay with it."

   Backer says it is a continuing problem, since, although there are regular firefighters on staff, the department relies heavily on volunteers. "During calls, a lot of people seem surprised that they are being treated by volunteers," he said. "There seems to be an assumption that we are a fully-staffed department."

   He says the department currently has 26 volunteers that are able to respond. Four are in training. Regarding the turnover rate, he said that about 1/3 of the volunteers move, another 1/3 have changes at home, and the remainder get burned out.

   But, he says, some of the trainees are looking for experience that would qualify them to be regular firefighters. More volunteers are sorely needed, he said.

   Recruiting tests will take place in January and fire training starts the first Wednesday in March with EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) school in September. Fire training takes one night a week and Saturdays and lasts 10 weeks.

   Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter can contact the Duvall/King County Fire District 45 at 788-1625.