For the first time, local firefighting recruits do not need to travel to North Bend for their 14-week academy training.
Ten Snohomish County fire departments have formed their own fire academy. Right now, 27 recruits are in training, including seven from South Snohomish Fire.
South Snohomish Fire recruits are Spencer Sommer, Cory Dowell, Christopher Fezer, Joshua Young, Theodore Martin, Felipe Aguirre-Larrain and Casey Wilson.
There are many benefits to having a local academy, according to Asst. Chief Scott Goodale.
“The biggest benefit to recruits is they can go home every night,” he said. When attending the North Bend academy, recruits would have to relocate to the academy during training.
Additionally, at a local academy, recruits learn county protocols, so their department orientation after graduation can be much shorter. In some cases, the orientation time can go from over a month or two to just two weeks.
Plus, getting multiple local departments together has allowed them to realign their basic protocols, so that when multiple departments respond to an incident, they all start on the same page.
“It’s getting everyone working together,” Goodale said. “That’s the cool part about it.”
On Monday, March 26, recruits tested their skills in a challenge course, which had them drag a hose line, spray a hose, climb a three-story ladder, navigate up a staircase in total darkness using a hose line that had been wound up the staircase, hoist a hose up to a second-story balcony, assemble equipment and tie a knot, among other tasks.
“The course follows the progression of a fire,” said Everett Training Division Chief Matt Sorenson, who was one of the leaders in assembling the curriculum for the academy. “It transitions from hard physical tasks to cognitive tasks.”
Recruits are timed as they progress through the course. At the end of the 14-week academy, recruits will complete the challenge course again to see how they have improved. There is no required time to pass.
An important part of the academy is physical fitness.
Melissa Uftriing, a physical trainer from Everett Community College with experience training firefighters, conducts fitness training exercises. She explains that recruits can no longer skip workouts and need to develop healthy eating habits.
“You gave up the right to be selfish,” she told a room of recruits standing at attention. “You’re a firefighter now.”
She also stressed the importance of creating core and joint strength, as sprains and strains are the top injury firefighters suffer. Additionally, medical aid calls are more common than fire calls, so firefighters need to be prepared to lift or move the weight of a person in distress.
“We designed the fitness program to prevent injury,” said Lt. Joe Basta.
The academy has been years in the making. First, a training consortium was founded in 2016. Then, as it became more difficult for Snohomish County fire departments to secure enough spaces in the North Bend academy, the Snohomish County Fire Chiefs Association instructed the consortium to create its own academy.
Trainers were recruited and a curriculum was created, a process that took about four months. On March 19, the first group of Snohomish County recruits began their training locally.
The costs for the initial year are equal to the expense of sending a recruit to the state academy, South Snohomish Fire spokeswoman Leslie Hynes said in a press release. Participating fire departments are donating the use of apparatus and equipment. The academy is seeking a federal grant to pay for equipment needs going forward.
During the academy, new firefighters learn how to fight fires, but also how to communicate with their team at the scene of a fire, how fire develops, how to cut into ventilation and how to conduct search and rescue, among other vital skills.
Organizers were thrilled to see the new academy in action.
“It’s really cool,” Sorenson said. “It’s really neat to see it all come together.”
–Story, photos and video by Natalie Covate