Lacey fire recruits training on-site so they can serve quickly

It’s a new idea for the district that is reopening Station 35 with a federal grant

ckrotzer@theolympian.comApril 25, 2013 

A grant has allowed the Lacey Fire Department to restaff Station 35.

Twelve new firefighters are going through an in-house academy, an option never before used by the district.

Usually firefighters go through Bates Fire Recruit Academy in Tacoma or the state-run Fire Training Academy in North Bend.

In training Wednesday, a firefighter was cautious as he approached a metal Dumpster that reeked of propane. All it took was the touch of a metal pole with a lit emergency flare fixed on the end for the propane to ignite.

About four other firefighters walked up, hose in hand, to douse the roaring flames.

They were part of a crew of 10 men and two women hired by Lacey Fire District 3 with the help of a $2.4 million federal grant to staff the district’s empty Willamette Drive station.

Nine of the new hires were already volunteers with the department. Three others were about to be laid off or were already laid off due to budget cuts from another departments.

Crews were removed from Station 35 in April 2012 because of budget constraints, increasing the average response time to the area by two minutes because firefighters and medics responded from the Steilacoom Road station.

It was the second time the station had closed in three years.

The $2.4 million Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant covers the cost to hire, train and pay the new 12-person crew for two years. Where the funding would come from after that is unknown.

That fact hasn’t fazed the new hires.

“We will worry about the two years when it comes,” said Jake Hunter of Tumwater, who previously volunteered with Lacey for two months. “We will knock on doors, do what we have to do to prolong our careers.”

Chief Steve Brooks is focused on getting his new crew up to speed.

Because of the time constrains with the grant funding, which started in mid-March, Brooks said the state agreed to work with them to put on an in-house academy with live fire training at the Mark Noble Regional Fire Training Center off Fones Road.

The firefighters do their classroom training at the Hawks Prairie station.

The recruits are in the middle of the fifth week of their 10-week academy training, which includes at least 32 hours of live-fire training.

Because the new firefighters are training with Lacey equipment from the start, Lt. Ryan Cox said it will take less time to get them active in the field.

“Usually we have a mini-academy after the state academy to evaluate their skills and fine tune them to what we do,” Cox said. “It’s a lot more efficient this way.”

Cox has been the driving force behind coordinating the academy. The class still has to go to the North Bend academy for live-fire training in flammable liquids.

Hunter paid his own way through academy training to make himself more marketable. He graduated in November.

With a wife and two children at home, Hunter is happy to get his career going after years working full time as a restaurant manager and firefighting as a volunteer for more than two years.

Hunter and the other 11 firefighters each have some level of training. The focus of the academy is to get them all on the same page, as well as build on teamwork.

“The camaraderie we are going to develop over these weeks is second to none,” Hunter said. “It’s a team sport.”

The recruits are set to graduate June 15. After they are integrated into their shifts, Station 35 is expected to open around June 29 with a single engine three-person team.

The next step will be finding funding options to keep the new firefighters. Brooks said those options could range from more grants to voter approved initiatives.

“We are already working with community organizations to come up with different methods,” Brooks said.

Chelsea Krotzer: 360-754-5476 @chelseakrotzer

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