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Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue seeks volunteers
When Holly Slothower wanted to find a way to better her future and give her some life skills, she found a great opportunity with Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue.
She was only 17 when she started the classes to become an emergency medical technician, and by the time her training was complete, 18-year-old Slothower began working as a volunteer EMT, and eventually went on to be trained as a firefighter, as well.
“It was probably one of the best decisions I could have done,” she said. “It’s given me a lot of insight that most teenagers don’t get in the early stages.
“It was awesome.”
Now 20, Slothower is a part-time employee with the department, and intends to use her training and experience to some day pave her way into a career in law enforcement.
The department, which covers about 50 square miles from Mutiny Bay to Libbey Road, currently employs 12 full-time and nine part-time people.
The department has 17 volunteers.
“In a perfect world, somewhere between 30 and 40 volunteers would be wonderful,” said Chad Michael, deputy chief of Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue.
They have three fire stations, and would ideally have about 10 volunteers for each station, according to Michael.
Training Captain Jerry Helm said that anyone 18 and older who lives in the district can volunteer.
“Men, women — doesn’t matter,” Helm said.
“Everybody above 18 years old can drive a vehicle and start the process.”
The training process, which is completely paid for by Central Whidbey Fire & Rescue, includes a few months of training, with classes on nights and weekends to work around job schedules a volunteer may have.
Volunteers can become firefighters, EMTs or both, according to Helm, and the training for one takes about three to four months.
Helm said that anyone considering volunteering with the district is more than welcome to call or drop in for more information. He said he would happily talk about what being a volunteer would entail, the training and the work.
“The initial training up front is a little bit of a time commitment, but once that’s over with, you get to be involved with a good group of people, and if you have time and can make it work, it’s a good opportunity to be involved in your community,” said Helm.
Michael said that volunteers have the option of either responding to any emergency calls they choose, or signing up to be on-duty volunteers out of the station itself, when they will then respond to any call that comes in.
Kyle Jacobsen started his firefighter training when he was 20 and still in college. Since graduating, he got a job off island, but still returns to Whidbey Island for his part-time job with the station.
“It was a great opportunity,” Jacobsen said. “It was a good step. I wanted to see if this is what I wanted to do, and being a volunteer helped form that, and I knew I wanted to serve some way.”
Jacobsen now works in construction in Lynnwood, but wants to eventually make firefighting a career.
“Beyond just being able to help out, it’s a great step to figuring out what you want to do,” he said.
Not all volunteers turn firefighting into a career, though. Most of them remain volunteers and work their day jobs.
“In my mind, the biggest benefit is the fact that, particularly in a small community, is that you get to help out your friends and family and neighbors,” Michael said.
Helm said that a benefit for some people is that the training counts towards some college credit.
According to Slothower and Jacobsen, many fire departments can sometimes look down on volunteers as not being on the same level, but they said that it’s the complete opposite at Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue.
“That’s one thing I really love about my department,” said Slothower, “is there’s not really a bridge between full-time, part-time volunteers. We’re all basically the same.”
“Volunteers show up at every big call, every call that we have,” Jacobsen said. “There’s no way we could run a successful department without volunteers.”
Jacobsen added that the district is willing to back up volunteers, and put in time, effort and money into them and their training.
“They really try to help out people that want to be volunteers, and give them any opportunity to become volunteers,” said Jacobsen.
“There’s a mutual respect throughout all the levels of employment,” he added.
“Everyone knows that if you’re a volunteer, then you’re putting your time in, and they respect you.”
For more information, call Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue at 360-678-3602.