Key Peninsula, Gig Harbor fire departments work together to bolster volunteers


Peter Ruble

Fire District 16 Lt. Kaci Sun and Battalion Chief Hal Wolverton display plans for the district’s Conex box training props that will be used to help train volunteer recruits and career firefighters. Photo by Peter Ruble, KP News

The Key Peninsula Fire Department (District 16) will be partnering with Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One starting Jan. 6 to help recruit volunteers into both departments.

This is an effort to bolster the number of recruits to help address the needs of both communities when it comes to firefighting.

New recruits will get a chance to learn from instructors from both the Key Peninsula and Gig Harbor fire departments. They will be able to embark on a six-month journey that will culminate with the issuance of a Firefighter 1 certification, which can potentially be used to find employment as a professional firefighter.

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” said Key Peninsula Battalion Chief Hal Wolverton.

Wolverton is the coordinator for the cross-training along with Battalion Chief Tracy Lyon of Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One.

Wolverton said the training (which they have done mutually for years) will save both departments money by keeping things local.

“By partnering with Fire District 16, we will keep everything in-house,” Lyon said. “We won’t have to worry about volunteers receiving different information by going outside of the community to train.”

Lyon said that the majority of the training for volunteers on both sides will take place in Gig Harbor. With the partnership, Key Peninsula Fire Department recruits will be able to train at the Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One grounds, where they can practice on an airplane prop and other life-like training props. They also will be able to practice on an actual house at the Tacoma Narrows Airport.

Key Peninsula Fire administrative assistant and Volunteer Battalion Chief Anne Nesbit said the partnership will help the departments fight fires in both regions. Gig Harbor Fire & Medic One is the main source of mutual aid for her district.

“We know each other’s equipment and we know each other’s personnel, so it’s a natural (training) merger,” Nesbit said.

For new volunteers, the process starts in the fall with a series of written tests and a background check. This is followed by a physical test, board review, chief’s interview and a welcoming meeting. Afterward, there is an orientation session that allows family members to learn how to cope with some of the stresses that a firefighter could incur. They officially become volunteers in January and after graduating June 29, they are put on probation for a year before becoming full-time firefighters. Volunteers can fight live fires after their live fire training in North Bend in April.

According to Wolverton, the recruiting process is competitive, rigorous and a far cry from how things were run when he started as a firefighter in the early 1980s, when a recruit would just show up, put on some gear and start training.

Wolverton said that about 75 percent of the volunteers go on to become professional firefighters. “It’s a great opportunity for people who want a career in the fire department,” he said.

He said part of the training will involve practicing on Conex boxes. These boxes, which are used to transport equipment via railroad, are constructed into miniature houses that the fire department uses as models for house fires.

Wolverton said the metal units can be stacked on top of one another to simulate two-story fires. They can also help simulate forced entry and confined-space situations that could arise in an actual fire emergency. Training with ladders also can be achieved with the boxes, he said.

Wolverton said the Conex box training is an ever-evolving process. Currently, Key Peninsula Fire is in a design phase in which mock windows and chimneys are being fashioned to help represent an actual house.

For information and how to become a volunteer, call (253) 884-2222.