Smoke blankets the house on 3rd Avenue in Colville as the Colville Fire Department Fire District No. 3 firefighters take their positions around the structure.
Fire trucks and vehicles line the street as the volunteer firemen talk on radios and confer with one another over the situation at hand. The only difference in last Monday night's fire was that it wasn't an actual emergency—it was a training exercise set up on a house donated to the CFD by a local businessman. The new location, complete with two-stories, gave the department a training ground to practice their skills on---an invaluable resource, according to CFD Volunteer Training Officer and firefighter Ryan Power.
“It's really rare that we are able to get live fire training, and it's even more rare when someone donates a structure we can actually work in,” says Power. “Usually, if someone donates a building for a controlled burn, it's so dilapidated that it's unsafe for our guys to go inside. It just so happens that on this one, the house is in good condition, so we have the opportunity to use it to simulate live fire situations that we have to deal with.”
Not set in stone
During last Monday night's training, there was no actual fire---machines blew smoke throughout the house so firefighters could practice accessing different entry ways into the house, proper use of equipment, including oxygen tanks, and radio operations, to name a few.
It's entirely a team effort, says Power, with all the firefighters learning how to do each individual task. Safe to say, a lot more goes into it then breaking down doors and aiming hoses.
“I wish I could say that there was some set-in-stone policy about how to handle each fire we come up against, but there's not,” says Power. “Every fire is different, so everyone has to know how to do everyone else's job.”
According to CFD Chief Joe Hirsch, the department responds to an average of 100 emergency fire calls per year. Hirsch and Power receive small monetary stipends for their respective roles within the department, but none of the firefighters are paid. The City of Colville provides the department with a budget for training, but that amount has not yet been revealed for 2014.
It costs an average of $1,000 to $2,000 in training for an entry level firefighter.
Hirsch says he hopes to hold four to five more training sessions at the house on 3rd Avenue before the department burns it down in March.
A moment's notice
“These are guys that drop everything at a moment's notice when we get that call to help people they might not even know,” says Hirsch. “Most of them work full-time and have families, yet they are willing to put themselves in harm's way.”
The department is required to maintain standards in training and safety put forward not just by the city, but also the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Training that can't be covered in-house requires firefighters to go to the Fire Training Academy in North Bend. The academy puts forth a list of training classes each year for entry level and seasoned firefighters.
“It's a continuous cycle,” says Power of firefighters' training. “Standards change, methods and techniques change—it's not like we can send each guy through a couple of classes and then claim that we have the perfect fire department. We're constantly learning.”
Currently, the CFD is at full roster, with 35 volunteers, all men, with ages ranging from mid-20s to early 50s. According to CFD standards, entry level firefighters must have a minimum of 120 hours of training, including fire control, search and rescue one, first aid and CPR certifications and emergency vehicle training.
“There is no difference between a volunteer firefighter and a professional firefighter in terms of training,” Power says. “We try really hard with the resources we have and we make it work. We have to.”