OCEAN PARK - "I'm a little anxious," fire training recruit Nelson Vallardes said as he donned the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) in preparation to put out a car fire in Ocean Park Saturday. "It's a like getting ready for a ball game in high school. You have to be mentally prepared."
Vallardes is one of 10 recruits Lieutenant Mike Karvia is training to be prepared to work as volunteer firefighters on the Peninsula. The recruits go through a 116-hour academy presented by Fire District No. 1 in Ocean Park.
"When I first joined the department the training session was 32 hours. Next year it will be expanded to 120. There is a lot to learn," Karvia explains.
Fire District No. 1 provides instructors, books, videos, materials, equipment and food during the two-month training period at no cost to the recruits. Sessions are Tuesday and Thursday evenings and every other Saturday. In return, the trainees become well-qualified volunteers and may use the certification they earn to pursue a paid-career in firefighting.
The 10 recruits and seven support staff, including Karvia, concentrated on car fires on Saturday. Following a two-hour classroom session, the trainees donned the SCBA and complete gear. A paid firefighter must get the equipment on and fully operational in under a minute and volunteers are requested to don the approximately 50 pounds of gear in 1-1/2 minues.
Mike DeConto gives an excited shout when Doug Beardsley announces the recruit has gotten his turn-out gear on in 56 seconds. Then it's time for lunch and a briefing on what will happen during the burn. Karvia says, "Anyone can shout 'stop, safety' if there is a safety concern during the evolutions today."
The evolutions, or practice runs, include extinguishing burning hay doused with gasoline and diesel that is placed inside a 1987 Ford Taurus or a 1980 Ford van. Driver Bob Haskins readies fire engine No. 21 while instructors set the hay on fire inside the Taurus.
With siren briefly blaring and lights flashing the truck arrives and the first evolution begins. Five of the recruits exit the truck, assess the situation, ready the hose, break glass, and put out the blaze. Karvia carefully goes through what can be improved upon and readily praises the work of the volunteers.
The exercise is repeated several times and the fires are moved to the engine or trunk areas of the car or van. The word evolution describes the progress of the recruits as they take on different roles when putting out the blazes. Later the recruits use the jaws-of-life device to cut up the burned out vehicles. Karvia goes over every detail of the exercise.
How to use the hallogen bar (a multi-purpose tool used to break objects so firefighters can attack a blaze), how to pop open a trunk or hood of a vehicle, what the weather conditions will be, and how much water pressure is used in the inch and three-quarter fire hose are just a few of the items discussed.
"Safety is our number one concern," Karvia cautions. We use 120 pounds-per-square-inch of water pressure instead of the usual 150, the vehicles have water and not gasoline in the fuel tank, there are no air bags, the tires are punctured using the hallogen, the fire truck is driven less than 25 miles per hour, and we put on full gear and have the SCBA's on air.
He reminds the recruits to always have an escape route when they are fighting a fire. Paid firemen Ralph Stocker, Kendal Biggs, and Dan Ordway assist Karvia in coaching the recruits and watching for safety problems that may occur during the evolutions. A backup fire engine is on scene, just in case.
Ann Pegouskie of Ocean Park says the most difficult component of the 116-hour course for her is the classroom part.
"I really enjoyed the Washington State Fire Academy in North Bend. We did search and rescue, rescued dummies inside burning buildings, and put out pallets set on fire in smoke-filled rooms. I'd rather be doing something than sitting in class."
Ray Eldred, also from Ocean Park, laughingly says the toughest part of the training for him is physical agility.
"We had to go up and down the steps of the football stadium in Ilwaco three times packing 50 pounds of hose or a bucket of foam or an 80 pound 'hose dummy' on each trip. We had to roll up 100 feet of hose, chop a railroad tie, and then drag a truck tire 85 feet."
Volunteer are requested to accomplish the physical agility test within 10 minutes and firefighters must complete the grueling regimen within five minutes.
Recruits from Ocean Park besides Eldred, Haskin, Vallardes, and Pegouskie include Sadie Castle. Michelle Nielson and Dan Lopez are from Ilwaco, and DeConto, Serenity Sargeant, and Jesse Copeland are from Long Beach.
"Several of the recruits will be volunteers in more than one fire district," Karvia explains.
Topics include CPR, Hazmat, knot tying, fire behavior, ladder usage, fire alarms, and a tour of the dispatch center. House and car fire practical experience and a rodeo of skills are part of the extensive training.
Karvia concludes by saying, "The volunteers put in a great deal of time and energy to help keep our community safe. They work very hard."