Key Peninsula Fire District 16 promoted three firefighters to lieutenant and three lieutenants to captain at a swearing-in ceremony July 28.
Promoted from lieutenant to captain were Kaci Corrigan, Dale Heidal and Jeremy Underwood.
Promoted from firefighter to lieutenant were Doug Gelsleichter, Danny Hansen and Nate Jean.
“I applied to be a lieutenant because I have a passion for the job,” Lt. Gelsleichter said. He volunteered for the KP fire district in 2009, was hired in 2013, and became a paramedic in 2015. “I had no idea what I was signing up for. I fell in love with the culture, the passion and the camaraderie — it really is like a second family here,” he said.
KPFD employs 27 fulltime firefighter/paramedic/EMTs, including Fire Chief Dustin Morrow, Assistant Fire Chief Hal Wolverton and three battalion chiefs. One battalion chief is on duty every shift, while Morrow and Wolverton share the responsibility of duty chief to respond if needed.
Between seven and 10 career personnel are now available at all times on the KP. Volunteer firefighters, who number anywhere from 12 to 16 at a given time, also began responding out of the Key Center fire station in August.
The rank of captain was reinstituted as part of staff growth and roster reorganization, according to Morrow. The emergency medical services levy approved by voters in 2019 allowed the department to hire three additional firefighter/EMTs. As a result, three stations — Wauna, Home and Longbranch — are now staffed fulltime for the first time in years, and each will have a specific captain assigned to it.
“The captains will be involved in community outreach in our respective station areas,” said Capt. Heidal, who joined KPFD in 1993 after firefighter training in the Navy. “We will be managing community relations, equipment, training for all assigned to the station, supplies, apparatus. Chief Morrow likes to get things done and has lots of good ideas about how to do it, and he has expectations of us all to do the same.”
Choosing which captain would go where was left up to them, Morrow said. “They were very purposeful in how they deliberated about that and I’m pleased with where folks are landing.”
Medic units are on duty at Wauna and Longbranch while the fire engine on call is in Home. “It made the most sense to put Kaci (Corrigan), who’s a paramedic, down at Home because that allows the engine to respond as ALS (Advanced Life Support) instead of BLS (Basic Life Support). Kaci also has some real passion about engine operations and the craft of firefighting, and the other two want to spend more time on the medical side of things, so that worked out for them to be at the medic stations.”
Capt. Heidal will be stationed in Wauna, in part because of his wildland firefighting expertise, Morrow said. “Jeremy (Underwood), our hometown guy, lives just south of the Home bridge and has really wanted to pick up the community and connection components of being a captain, and the Longbranch station made great sense for him.”
Capt. Underwood started as a volunteer on the KP in 2006, went to paramedic school in 2009, and was hired fulltime in 2011.
“I grew up in the north end of the KP off of Creviston and went to Minter Creek, Key Peninsula Middle School, and graduated from Peninsula High,” he said. “I have always been motivated to lead and help make positive improvements in the organization, so when the opportunity to test for captain became available, I was very excited to apply.”
Capt. Corrigan said she wanted to be assigned to Station 47, in Home.
“Because it is geographically the middle station of the three, I will be able to backup and assist both the north and south end crews, which means I get to see and support all of my people,” she said. “As captains, we will be spending time out in our dedicated areas to really get to know the people we serve, better understand their needs, and to identify the particular hazards and risks that are inherent to that area.”
She joined the fire service in 2007.
“My daughter died at the age of five months back in 2003. I got the call while I was at work. Because of the efforts of the fire department, I had a chance to say goodbye. As time went on after losing her, it became clear to me that part of my journey toward trying to make sense of any of it, or find peace, was to try to stand in the gap for people in their darkest time, because I’ve been there, I know what it feels like. I want to help solve problems and ease burdens, and give back.”