Recruits meet flaming enemy close up

Volunteer firefighter Will Green of Pacific County Fire Protection District No. 4 in Naselle, sprays down a car used in a practice fire Saturday in Ocean Park. DAMIAN MULINIX photo

OCEAN PARK - Amid smoke and flame, firefighter recruits moved tactically toward a car fire Saturday, using charged hoses to douse the inferno - for the fourth time that day.

The flaming car was a test for the six men who make up the newest recruit class of Pacific County Fire Protection District No. 1. Of these six, three are already volunteer firefighters from Fire District No. 4 in Naselle. Lee Clark, Will Green and Gary Queener are using the higher training standards of Fire District No. 1 to help prepare themselves for taking the state Firefighter-1 test.

"I just wanted to enhance my skills," said Green. "I'm going to school at Clatsop Community College. This just better prepares myself for my education, because I want to do this as a career. I'm really fortunate to get to come here and do this. They really know their stuff and they really teach it well. It definitely enhances our skills to take back to Naselle."

Rick Bonney, Jim Maggs and Robert Waltemate will be joining District No. 1 following completion of training later this month.

"Actually, I'd been waiting awhile to join," said Waltemate. "I heard the program they were going to teach us was pretty good, so I thought now was a good time to do it. I like helping out ... it just seemed like the smart thing to do."

Fire District No. 1 has one class of recruits per year, usually beginning in January. The recruits have to go through 112 total hours of study, increased from 40 total hours in past years, in order to take the district test. If they pass, they become certified to work as volunteers in the district.

"We're teaching the students to the basic Firefighter-1 training program put on by the Washington State Patrol Fire Protection Bureau," said Lt. Mike Karvia, the training officer for Fire District No. 1.

Fire District No. 1 has upped the testing standards for new recruits coming into the district. This is the second year they are testing students to the Firefighter-1 level.

"This is to ensure that the end product we have has a complete basic knowledge of fire fighting and the district standards," said Karvia. "When you want to join Fire District No. 1, we're going to test you to Firefighter-1 standards. To get the Firefighter-1 certification, you have to take the state test," and pass a practical exam.

"Fire District No. 1 is asking a lot of the new recruits," said Karvia, "but so is the public. The public wants to know that they're going to have a knowledgeable, skillful person on the fire or accident scene."

The training is broken up into both classroom and hands-on environments. Karvia said that this current recruit class is a good one.

"Wonderful," he said of his group. "The students are so knowledgeable and skillful. They have current fire fighting experience, EMS experience, previous department experience."

Besides the regular study schedules in which they work out of a textbook, recruits also attend what are called "practicals" - hands-on training to reinforce what they have learned.

On Saturday, the recruits got their first chance to face down flames during a practice fire on an old car, donated to the district for such a purpose. Karvia said the group was very excited about the opportunity to put their training to the test.

"This is a big step for them," he said.

The vehicle, an old Mazda 626 sedan, was set to flames numerous times to give everybody an opportunity to do different jobs and simulate different situations. Three-man teams worked to put out the fire while the other three stood by, hoses at the ready, in case the situation got out of control.

"I think I gained a lot of experience from it," said Waltemate. "It's not completely the real thing, but it helps."

Before Saturday two previous practicals dealt with a variety of skills and situations, included donning their personal protective equipment and self-contained breathing apparatus, plus learning the safe way to board and exit a fire truck.

"Our whole goal is safety," said Karvia. "We beat 'em up on safety."

Search and rescue techniques are also taught, including mock extractions with obscured vision.

"We put a shower cap over there [the front of the mask]," said Karvia. "They crawl around inside the structure ... advancing with a hose line. Finding a victim, which was a hose dummy, and retrieval of that victim to a safe environment."

The final practical - this time featuring driving skills for emergency vehicles - will take place the same day recruits take their final district exam. They will also participate in a practice house fire at the end of the month in Ocean Park.

"This is the grand finale," said Karvia, "burning the house down, getting to practice what we've learned in class - get to practice what we've learned in our all-day practicals, in a real-fire situation."

Practice home fires are a very tightly orchestrated procedure, safety being the upmost concern. Students get the opportunity to advance into the live fire with charged hoses and practice fire suppression activities. But the goal is not to put the fire out. The house is burned to the ground as a way for the recruits to watch fire behavior.

Many of the recruits already attend fire calls with their respective fire teams, though the new recruits are not able to help in a full capacity because they are still in training. On scene, a new recruit is noticeable by the color of his helmet, which is black. Once he is certified as a firefighter he can then wear a yellow helmet like the rest of the team.

Fire District No. 1 has also made arrangements for the recruits to take part in a two-day training exercise in July at the Washington State Patrol Fire Training Academy in North Bend. The six men, who will all then be certified volunteer firefighters, will take part in search and rescue and fire suppression drills.

"This is just another advancement of their skill level," said Karvia. "This is a big deal. This is another feather in their cap."

Departments from all over the state send new firefighters to this annual event.

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