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Pilot program will help seasoned volunteers in the Bainbridge Island Fire Department

Talk about an idea that hits close to home.

The Bainbridge Island Fire Department is launching a pilot program to help longtime volunteers log the hours they need to stay on the department's roster.

Fire Chief Hank Teran said the new Home Response Program will help tenured volunteers who can't devote extended hours in standby mode at the fire stations due to family commitments or other issues.

Under the current setup, volunteers are alerted when emergency calls come in, and the general rule is that emergency responders will go to the scene of the call, or a fire station, depending on which location is closest.

Volunteers who come into the station for standby duty get dressed for action and respond to calls from the station.

Teran outlined the new program for fire commissioners at their meeting late last week.

Volunteers, he explained, will be able to notify the duty captain that they'll be able to respond from home to calls: "I'll be at home mowing my lawn, but any calls that come in - I will be going."

Emergency responders would not pick and choose which calls they would go out on, Teran added, and the arrangement would give the duty captain a guaranteed volunteer response on those days. The change will help fire department officials know beforehand how many volunteers will show up for emergency calls.

"It's really going to help a core number of our tenured volunteers who can't do 10 hours of standby at a fire station," Teran said.

Volunteers in home standby mode will not be paid.

"There is no cost to the district," Teran said. "We would not be compensating them during the time they are standing by at home, but they would get credit for standbys, which is the important value."

Volunteers would receive compensation for the calls they go out on.

The move is the latest change to make the department more flexible in retaining volunteers. Several years ago, the department expanded its recruitment efforts for volunteers, accepting off-island help and EMS-only volunteers.

The Home Response Program has gotten an enthusiastic thumbs up from the tenured volunteer members, Teran said.

"It's been supported by the volunteer membership, the officers, the administration and the volunteer coordinator," he added.

Fire commissioners were also supportive of the new program.

"I think it's awesome," said Fire Commissioner Maureen Halligan.

She recalled how moving from the middle of the island to the north end impacted her own ability to go out on calls.

"It was a totally different animal," she said of the north. "There were so few calls."

"You'd hear the third rig going ... and you would know you weren't needed on an EMS call," she said.

"You just never got any sort of time," Halligan said.

The chief said the pilot program will involve less than a handful of volunteers, and Teran will give a progress report to fire commissioners in six months.

The new program comes as the number of volunteers has dipped slightly in the department and standby hours have increased.

During the first quarter of 2012, the fire department responded to 626 calls for emergency service.

"That number is just down slightly — just a hair over 1 percent down — as compared to the first quarter of 2011," said Assistant Chief Jared Moravec.

There are currently 35 volunteer responders on the roster; which is down from 39 during the same time last year.

Volunteer Coordinator Jay Rosenberg said there were a total of 673 volunteer responses during the quarter.

"Twenty one volunteers served a total of 3,410 extended standby hours, which is a record for the department," Rosenberg said.

The standby hours represent a 9-percent increase over the first quarter of last year, he added.

Two volunteers have already served more than 500 hours of extended standby duty; Travis Lande has 557 hours, while Tien Tran has 510.5.

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