Firefighter graduates establish precedent for BIFD professionalism

A graduation ceremony for volunteer firefighters will be held at 6:30 p.m., Thursday in Bainbridge High School's LGI building.

The Bainbridge Island Fire Department will graduate nine volunteer firefighters tonight at Bainbridge High School.

The ceremony is held annually for trainees who complete their basic training with the department. But this year's ceremony will mark the first time local volunteers are certified to an independent national standard.

The nine graduates achieved Firefighter Level 1 certification, a first for the department which is new accredited to train recruits to the national standard.

"We've done academies before, but this is 100 hours longer than other courses we've offered and involves third-party independent testing," BIFD training officer Capt. Dave Dilley said.

Offering Firefigher Level 1 training is part of a wider program at BIFD to raise the bar for professionalism, and will be mandatory for all new volunteers wanting to serve with the department.

Achieving the designation involves about 320 hours worth of training and exercises in a 20-week period, including an additional 100 hours of training to the basic commitment the department had previously required.

Candidates are also tested on more than 70 skill sets, from breaching walls to providing first aid – all under rigorous third-party evaluation.

One of the most recent tests involved live fire exercises in North Bend, where island volunteers had to enter scorching buildings to attack live fires.

The BIFD's Firefighter Level 1 certification training is accredited by the International Fire Service Accreditation Congress, and so far, the new training has attracted more volunteers to the department.

"This has been one of the biggest classes we've had," Dilley said. "The word of mouth is spreading."

Starting next year, the BIFD will also start offering the certification courses to serving and prospective firefighters living off the island.

But the training has also garnered interest from current island volunteers, including two individuals who decided to retake their training to achieve the national certification.

"I already went through basic firefighter training three years ago, but decided to go through it all again to earn the firefighter 1 designation," Jim Ekstrand said.

Ekstrand, who is already a member of the department and has a day job as an electrical engineer, felt that putting in the extra hours would bolster his skill set.

"As the department has progressed there are more certifications being required, and this training is going to be required of all new recruits," he said. "So I decided to do it for that reason and I felt it would give me a lot more confidence."

Tonight's graduates – Level 1 certification – included islanders Ekstrand, Adam Morrow, Dan Morrow, Holly VanSchaick, Tim Carey, Carol Mezen, Andy Nelson, Ben McCafferty and Donald Laurence.

"I think it is just a fantastic group," Ekstrand said. "The thing I like the most about (being a volunteer firefighter) are the people. I've had the chance to work with some of the nicest people I've ever come across."

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