A local fire department depends on new recruits to help stem the recent Washington state rural fires and compensate for the additional transportation burden on Whitman County fire departments.
Whitman County Fire District 12 accepts applications from anyone who can pass a background check and has a valid driver’s license to become a volunteer firefighter or EMS/EMT/first responder, said District 12 Fire Chief Lester Erwin.
Those with a Washington state EMS license may circumvent the year-long probationary period given to all new recruits, Erwin said. However, anyone else can still apply to help with driving ambulances and handling added workload from a new transport system.
“We just are struggling to make sure we have enough people to serve the residents we serve,” said District 12 EMS Chief Mirenda Stenbakken.
District 12 recently included more transports in their jurisdiction. This means the department has been busier with transporting patients from hospitals across the state and between interstate facilities, Erwin said.
Stenbakken said the department works primarily on a volunteer basis with opportunities for reimbursement. Erwin said both EMS/EMT responders and firefighters are welcome.
The department recently got rid of its requirement to have EMS volunteers also trained in firefighting, Erwin said.
“We’re willing to work with whatever they’d like to do,” Erwin said.
Erwin said the district provides in-house training and personal protective equipment.
The district will also teach socially distant courses for the various tasks firefighters are supposed to know when responding to a call, Stenbakken said.
“A lot of people are probably thinking, ‘But is it safe?’” Stenbakken said. “They have it in the back of their mind, ‘Maybe I should wait until this is over.’ I don’t want to tell anyone to go against their gut, but we’re really well-trained.”
Stenbakken said the training is sufficient for those who do not have much experience in the field.
For those who want to pursue nursing in the future, she said, “this is a really good stepping-off point,” because it allows students to work on-scene with patients.
Erwin said the department employs firefighters of any age range, but that they are constantly looking for younger volunteers, or “new blood,” to take over the district once the older generation is gone.
“They’re the ones that are gonna have to take over when us old guys retire,” Erwin said.
Stenbakken said many students in Pullman do not have the same opportunity to learn about the existence of the fire agency. District 12 used to host in-person open houses on WSU’s Pullman campus, but it is impossible now because of the pandemic.
“When they think, ‘Hey I’d love to help out’ … they don’t necessarily know that we’re here, so they can’t help us out,” Stenbakken said.
Those interested in volunteering can either email firstname.lastname@example.org or send an application to the postal address at 912 W Main St. in Pullman.
Editor’s Note: This story has been edited to correct the spelling of District 12 Fire Chief Lester Erwin’s name.