OLYMPIA – After processing thousands of inquiries over the past week, coordinators from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources have placed trained volunteers and equipment operators on rosters, directed other volunteers to community service opportunities and deployed some volunteers on wildfires. With those tasks completed, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources will end staffing of its temporary volunteer-intake centers in Omak, Colville and Castle Rock at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 27.
“The outpouring of support has been incredibly heartwarming and humbling,” said Mary Verner, deputy for DNR’s statewide wildfire program.
Since opening the temporary centers Aug. 21, DNR has received an overwhelming response. Thousands of people responded via email, phone, web surveys and visits to the temporary centers, enabling DNR to engage many additional people and pieces of equipment to support the state’s firefighting.
“These fires are extremely dangerous, as the tragic deaths of three firefighters have proven,” said Verner. “Safety for volunteers, fire crews and the public is our absolute top priority in any situation. Deployment will depend on safety conditions.”
Among those with current firefighting certifications, Jordan Reynolds, an emergency medical technician from Quincy, is scheduled to head out soon to the Okanogan Complex as a fire-line medic. Three Adams County firefighters, who reported to the Omak intake center last Friday, helped respond to emails and walk-in applicants until they were dispatched to the Okanogan Complex Saturday. Others have been deployed to fires elsewhere in Washington.
Those who came to the centers without the expertise needed for possible front-line deployment were connected to local efforts working to support the people in these communities that have been affected by wildfires.
Some volunteers have aided the effort behind the scenes. Angela Davis, a member of the Okanogan band of the Colville Tribes, whose mother’s house was threatened by fire, is working in the finance office to make sure proper payment is made to the firefighters.
“It’s extremely satisfying to know I’m covering their backs while they’re out covering my ancestral homeland,” said Davis.
Caleb Arnett, an Omak carpenter and window cleaner, came into the DNR intake center looking for a fire-line assignment. When the Okanogan Complex incident command asked for someone with computer skills, Caleb jumped at the opportunity. He is working for the incident’s finance section, keeping payments in order among the numerous different fires in the large fire complex.
“I did not expect to be doing this,” Caleb said, “but it made sense and I’m really happy I can help the guys out there fighting the fire.”
Fully-trained and qualified firefighters, equipment operators and other resources who came to the intake centers are being entered into dispatch rosters for possible deployment to fight fire. DNR dispatchers are verifying the credentials of hundreds more who identified themselves as having current wildland firefighting certifications. As experienced crew leaders become available to supervise them, these qualified firefighters may be assigned to fires.
DNR was able to provide basic safety certification to 315 equipment operators from its coordination centers and identified more than 100 pieces of previously unregistered equipment that could be called upon if needed. Some operators were folded into fire resource catalogs and dispatched quickly. Others were placed on the roster as qualified and available if fire incident commanders request their skills.
Agency officials say that firefighters, equipment and operators will be ordered by dispatch centers for specific needs. They ask that volunteers not show up for duty without specific orders from DNR.
More than 1,000 people with relevant skills, but lacking current certifications or the required safety equipment, also contacted the agency. These volunteers are being encouraged to contact local fire districts and enroll in next season’s training sessions.
“Volunteer firefighters provide a vital service in our communities. If we can turn the enthusiasm we’ve seen for community service into something that bolsters their ability to respond, everyone benefits,” said Verner.
The agency also hopes these individuals will consider applying for jobs as DNR wildland firefighters. Each January, the agency begins recruiting people for spring training so that crews are ready to be deployed for fire season. Job announcements can be found at http://www.dnr.wa.gov/employment/jobs.