Unless you were at The Evergreen State College in the 1970s, you probably don’t know that students once served as firefighters — driving engines, handling hoses and coping with medical emergencies.
Until he was asked to direct the documentary, Jonah Barrett said, “I didn’t know either.” And he’s an Evergreen grad, class of 2016.
You can find out more about the close-knit and courageous group, which reunited on campus last year, in “Station 93,” screening Saturday at the Capitol Theater.
The 55-minute film is showing as part of the Olympia Film Society’s What It Is Festival, two days of documentaries on topics from fish farms to rom coms.
“Station 93” was named for the station where the firefighters lived, part of the McLane Fire District. The documentary was filmed at the reunion, and combines interviews with firefighters with photos of the crew facing frighteningly large blazes and just hanging out.
Barrett was surprised not only by the fact that Evergreen had a student firefighter program, which offered students free room and board in exchange for their work, but also by what the firefighters endured.
“What surprised me the most were the traumatic stories they told,” Barrett told The Olympian. “I thought I was going to just interview a bunch of cute retired firefighters, but they talked about some really horrific stuff. You could kind of see it in their eyes.
“By the end of it, my crew and I were shook,” he added. “It was real and raw.”
In the film, students — including the state’s first female firefighter and several other women — talk about entering burning buildings, comforting the dying, and dealing with death.
A particular disturbing moment comes when Bruce Verhei talks about encountering a man who had suffered burns on 90 percent of his skin.
“It was about as horrible a thing as you could have happen physically to a human being, besides getting killed,” he said. “I can still smell him.”
Barrett was impressed by the firefighters’ ability to talk about painful memories and then chuckle about just how awful things were — and by the close bonds they developed.
“It’s about them creating a found family through all this trauma that they went through,” he said.
The program came to an end when the firefighters made an attempt to unionize, but its impact on the firefighters has lasted to this day.
They credit their time at Station 93 with helping them to become adults and teaching them about leadership and discipline. Some have made careers out of fighting fires, while others went on to become a paramedic, a nurse, a college professor and even the executive director of the National Education Association, John Stocks.
“I now run the largest labor union in the United States of America — 3 million members,” Stocks says in the film. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if it hadn’t been for Station 93.”
What It Is Festival
- What: The Olympia Film Society presents a mini festival of documentaries on a wide array of topics.
- When: Saturday and Sunday, July 13 and 14
- Where: Capitol Theater, 205 Fifth Ave. SE, Olympia
- Tickets: $9 per screening, $6 per screening for film-society members
- More information: 360-754-6670, olympiafilmsociety.org/what-it-is/
- 4 p.m. “Station 93,” directed by Jonah Barrett of Olympia, chronicles the story of The Evergreen State College students who fought fires in the 1970s and ’80s. Followed by a Q&A with Barrett and former student firefighters Kyle Noble, Maggie Roberts and Dave Siemens.
- 6:30 p.m. “ArtiFISHal” explores the effects of hatcheries and fish farms on communities, the environment and wild salmon.
- 9 p.m.: “Romantic Comey” goes beneath the surface of the beloved film genre to explore their view — and Western society’s view — of love and relationships.
- 2:30 p.m. “If the Dancer Dances” follows the efforts of choreographer Stephen Petronio to restage a Merce Cunningham classic.
- 5 p.m. “The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché” examines the life and work of film pioneer Guy-Blaché, who got involved with film in 1894, made more than 1,000 movies — and has been largely forgotten.
- 7:30 p.m. “The Quiet One” tells the story of The Rolling Stones and the life of Bill Wyman, known as the quiet one in the group, in Wyman’s words and through his collection of home movies, photos and memorabilia.