In response to the growing need for volunteer firefighters and EMTs, South Whidbey Fire/EMS launched a new program last year to recruit volunteers from outside of the district. So far this year, six Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) out of district volunteers have joined the department. They include: Sage Cowles, Aron Nolte, and Kiel Rasp, who all live in Seattle; plus Elizabeth Ratterman in Oak Harbor; Kristi Doody in Mukilteo; and Jesse Jennings in Edmonds. Two individuals are still in the process of joining.

“Our crew is getting stretched pretty thin,” said H.L. “Rusty” Palmer. “Fatigue is setting in as we respond to an increasing number of calls, with fewer hands on deck. We continue to think of creative ways to recruit new members, but also are looking for ways to bring in more folks already trained who can help. This is one of those ideas put into action.”

Candidates must have a current Washington State Fire Fighter or EMT certification to ensure they have the necessary training and qualifications. Also required prior to acceptance are interviews, background check, drug test, and a work capacity test (physical fitness).

Ferry passes are not provided and out of district volunteers are compensated at the same rate as local volunteers. Ongoing training with the local volunteers is also required. The new volunteers have the ability to work at any station on that station’s duty shift. Duty shifts can be in four-hour increments. Currently, those choosing to do overnight shifts provide their own accommodations. Once the new Bayview station is built, the Freeland station will be converted to provide sleeping quarters in 2019.

So why would a Seattle first responder want to spend their free time serving the community of South Whidbey Fire/EMS?

“There are many reasons why members of other departments want to ride with us. One is for the opportunity to get more experience on the front line,” said Chief Palmer. “With an average of eight calls per day, there is no shortage of activity. They come to our district to learn and hone their skills with our team. We hope this idea will take hold and be successful. It is just getting underway, but so far it seems to be working.”