There is no doubt that 2020 has been weird in plenty of ways. As we move towards the end of the year, I have reflected on the change in course that occurred within the District this past year. While the District has managed through the COVID-19 outbreak well, many of our plans were disrupted this year. We did not complete as many of the planned capital improvement projects, additions to our fleet were delayed, budgets had to be adjusted to account for purchasing additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and we all had to learn to use Zoom in ways that we never anticipated.
Like in the private industry, disruption in the public sector can present opportunities if one is looking for them. One such opportunity that I want to share relates to our six recruit Firefighter/EMT's.
The District budgeted to hire up to six new Firefighter/EMT's in 2020. The plan was to spread the hiring processes out across the year, which we did. We hired three individuals in January, and consistent with plans, partnered with Central Pierce Fire & Rescue to include our three Recruits in their March training academy. They made it one week, and the academy was shut down due to COVID-19 related restrictions. Working with staff, I placed the three Recruits on shift as additional staffing. I also started working with staff to brainstorm options on providing the necessary initial training for these three individuals. Many ideas were discussed, but nothing stuck.
Confident that our talented staff would find a local recruit academy we could place our Recruits in before fall, I moved forward with our second hiring process as we rounded into summer. This next batch of Recruits would start on October 1st, so the pressure was on to make training plans quick.
An opportunity was presented when the District and leaders from IAFF Local 3152 started discussing how we might conduct our own training academy. What training would it cover? How many weeks would it be? Do we leave all six on shift? Where do we drill? What about live fire? Plenty of questions came to the table, and honestly, most of the questions felt like more roadblocks than answers. However, in a few short days, with lots of scribble on whiteboards, it seemed as though this could be a viable option for the District.
The District's Division Chief of Training, Jason Learned, along with Lieutenant Nate Jean, went to work outlining a possible schedule, contacting several fire service partners to secure drill grounds, working with the Washington State Patrol to understand certification processes, and working with community partners to locate an acquired structure (a house we could drill in and then burn) that could be used for the duration of the recruit academy. Also, Chief Learned and Lieutenant Jean worked with the District's Battalion Chiefs and Volunteer resources to carve out a coverage plan that would allow the recruits to stay on shift during the academy and not impact our services to the community while training was taking place.
On October 1, 2020, all six of our Recruits started a 16-week recruit training academy, the first ever that our District has lead independently. A truly amazing accomplishment, all at the hands of many talented District #16 leaders.
To say that our Recruits, Kyle, Marcus, Evan, Keith, Mike, and River are doing well is an understatement. They have hit the books, learned the information, demonstrated the skills, and have risen to the challenge of being a professional firefighter. As important to me, they have demonstrated amazing patience, an enormous ability to adapt to challenges, and an infectiously positive attitude. They truly are wonderful additions to our District and very much deserving of their careers.
This past week, I had the opportunity to spend considerable time with all six Recruits, including a full day of live-fire training, lead by Cheif Learned, Lieutenant Jean, and in association with one of our new partners, Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue. It was a really wonderful experience, and I am so proud of each of the recruits' progress.
Kyle, Marcus, Evan, Keith, Mike, and River will graduate from their recruit academy in January. What an accomplishment!
Yes, disruption can, in fact, present with opportunity. I am grateful I am part of an organization that can see the opportunities and does something with them.