New volunteer recruit John Ferrell looks on during vehicle extraction training. Photo by Anne Nesbit.

A new group of volunteers are training to become full-fledged Key Peninsula Fire District 16 firefighters.

Kyle Coonan, John Ferrell, Max Hass, Todd Jacobsen and John Mohn began their journey in September during the annual signup for volunteers. After applications closed at the end of October, all candidates were put through a battery of tests to measure their character and competence, including interviews with a panel and eventually one-on-one with Fire Chief Guy Allen.

If the checks and interviews produce satisfactory results, potential firefighters are sent to the Westside Recruit Academy. The academy is an educational institution where the subject is “everything about fire suppression,” according to Anne Nesbit, a volunteer battalion chief and administrative assistant at the KP fire department. Courses run from January to June, Tuesday and Thursday nights and weekends. Training is both theoretical and practical: Volunteers study topics like hazardous material identification and fire behavior as well as how to battle live fires and perform rescue operations.

Although the academy itself provides a high level of challenge for each group of volunteers, it’s not the ultimate test for an aspiring firefighter. The overall purpose of the classes and training is, Nesbit said, “basically getting them ready for their Firefighter 1 exam.”

The Firefighter 1 certification ensures that volunteers have experienced live fire training both on foot and in a vehicle, know proper responses to various types of fires, and can provide emergency medical care as a first responder. The certification represents the nationally accepted standard for a competent and well-prepared firefighter, professional or volunteer.

“Our district will always be volunteer dependent because of our staffing model,” Nesbit said. “We’re a combination department—we use the volunteers to back up the career personnel. Some of our biggest calls are medical. They can take up to eight people; it depends how crazy things are.”

“We’re about 20 strong now so to pick up five who live in district is huge,” she said. “A lot of our volunteers get hired away and in the last two years four of our guys have been hired, which is fantastic, but it hurts our numbers.”

“Volunteering is not like it used to be,” said Allen. “Nowadays people volunteer because they want a career. It’s great to see that—it’s really revitalized our program. It would be nice to hire some of them ourselves, but it’s all about the budget.”

Allen said the board of KP fire commissioners recently voted to put a replacement maintenance and operations levy on the August ballot. The current levy expires at the end of the year.

“We have to pass the next M&O levy this August just to maintain our current staffing,” said Allen. It would replace an expiring levy that provides $800,000 to the department each of the next four years and is used to fund eight firefighter positions. “It doesn’t mean we would lose eight people [if the levy fails], but we would reduce staffing on all shifts,” he said. “There’s really no way around it.”

KPFD’s group of new volunteers are slightly more than halfway through their training at the academy and aim to earn their certification in June. After their training is complete, they will go “on call” to respond to a variety of emergencies from one of the fire stations located on the peninsula or the headquarters in Key Center.

“A volunteer on the Key Peninsula is asked to do more than in many other organizations,” said Allen. “We need them to drive the rigs, to run the tender, to handle hose, to respond to medical calls. They get a lot more experience with us than in neighboring districts, and that makes us attractive.”

“They learn to do everything,” said Nesbit. “One of our new guys is already on the list to get hired in Seattle. If we can help them get a job and they are representing us, that’s awesome. But our numbers need to be higher. We’ll take another six in the fall.”

Volunteer applications are accepted from September to October. For more information, call Anne Nesbit at 884-2222 or go to: keypeninsulafire.org.

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