Volunteer firefighters are the driving force of getting through fire season
YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash.- Does making next to nothing and facing house or brush fires every couple of days sound like a dream job opportunity?
Fire Chief Nathan Craig said this is the reality for many of the firefighters in the Yakima Valley and across the United States.
"70 percent of our country is protected by volunteer firefighters," he said.
Each fire department has drills once a week to make sure their volunteers are ready for anything. Craig is part of West Valley Fire Department and he has 88 of them at his station.
"We typically get the best of the community that comes out and volunteers. It's people that want to be here and they don't have to be here. They want to be here," Craig said.
While that number may seem like a lot, Craig said they can take on almost 25 more volunteers before they are considered fully staffed. The shortage is seen across Yakima County and a department's volunteers can determine how much they can get done.
"If you have enough volunteers you have enough man power, you have the depth to handle larger incidents," he said.
Most firefighters work full time jobs during the day and then must get ready for training at night. If you live outside the city of Yakima, those are most likely volunteers fighting that fire down the street.
Carl Hendrickson has been a volunteer firefighter for 35 years and has loved every bit of it.
"This is what I've always wanted to do since I was a kid. I'm still enjoying it to this day. I'm getting toward the end of it but I am still enjoying it," Hendrickson said.
From veterans with double digit years of experience to rookies just starting out, David Martinez said there is a sense of fulfillment from being able to serve their community.
"Essentially you're putting your life on the line for somebody else and there is no greater help a person can give than that," he said.
Martinez has been part of the West Valley Fire Department for a little over a month and he remembers his first fire. It was a third alarm fire where helicopters were needed and 15 different departments worked together to put it out. He says he had to hit the ground running to keep up.
"Ask while you're doing something else. The important thing is protecting lives and property and staying safe," Martinez said.
If anyone is interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter, you can go to their local fire department and get in contact with one of their recruiters to get started.
Also, you don't need any previous experience. They will take care of you and get you ready for anything fire season and beyond will throw at you.