Fire District 3 will spend $150,000 FEMA grant on recruitment efforts

The Saratoga Fire Station will become the focus of volunteer recruitment efforts after Fire District 3 was awarded a FEMA grant. - Spencer Webster / The Record
The Saratoga Fire Station will become the focus of volunteer recruitment efforts after Fire District 3 was awarded a FEMA grant.
— image credit: Spencer Webster / The Record

Grant at a glance

What the grant will do for

Fire District 3:

Hire a recruitment coordinator, $9,000 stipend; improve Web site, $8,000; provide for a new marketing campaign, $11,000; add supplies and materials, $95,000.

FREELAND — The bad news: Fire District 3 needs more volunteers for at least three of its fire stations.

The good news: The Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed and doled out nearly $150,000 in grant funds to the district to increase its volunteer recruiting efforts.

“For us, it’s a grant that will give us the ability to reach different target areas,” said Fire District 3 Deputy Chief Jon Beck.

Beck said the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant will help pay $147,246 for a

four-year program that covers recruitment and retention of volunteers.

While some stations within the district, such as the Freeland Station, are fully staffed, the new Langley station — as well as the Saratoga and Maxwelton stations — are undermanned and not up to standards, Beck said.

The National Fire Protection Association publishes a manual that directs fire districts to effectively manage its firefighter resources, and the manual tells districts what proper response standards are, Beck said.

“With such low numbers at those stations, we can’t meet the standards,” he said.

The district wants at least 14 responders at each station, Beck said.

“Currently, Langley has eight, Saratoga has five and Maxwelton has six,” he said.

“And at the Saratoga and Maxwelton stations, a total of four volunteers work outside of the district,” Beck added, which means there is a risk that if a serious fire occurs within those three areas, high school student firefighters would have to be pulled out of their classes to go battle the blaze.

The type of calls dictate the response. A house fire, for example, would stretch thin the amount of available firefighters.

“It’s a structure fire where we start running into problems meeting the minimum staffing. You have to have two firefighters in and two firefighters out — plus guys on the pumpers bringing apparatus,” Beck explained.

“You can’t just roll up with two guys on an engine and two guys in an ambulance. It takes about six people to do an entry for a structure fire.”

The grant money will go to specific areas for recruitment of volunteers.

As a first step, the district will hire a volunteer from within the district to serve as a recruitment coordinator. The job will pay a $9,000 yearly stipend.

“This person will be actively recruiting, talking to people, gathering applications and attending various area meetings as well as being the district’s representative in any recruiting event,” Beck said.

The first hurdle the recruitment coordinator has to clear is the perception that Fire District 3 is manned by a paid staff, he said. That’s not the case.

“We want to get more actively out there (in the community) to get the word out that our organization is staffed primarily by volunteers,” he said. “Out of 80 to

90 volunteers, there are only four of us that are career firefighters.”

Add to that, approximately 10 to 15 of the district’s volunteers retire or move away on an annual basis, he added.

Another problem is that some South Whidbey employers are not willing or able to let employees who are volunteer firefighters leave work to respond to an emergency.

“We’re seeing a shift in the economy that a lot of employers won’t allow their employees to leave. We’d love to see participation from other employers if they’d allow their employees to respond to calls,” he said.

Beck was quick to point out that some South End businesses are eager to help when the call comes.

“Radio Shack (in Freeland) has been really good; they allow their guys to leave. Radio Shack is an example of the businesses with the willingness to help the community out,” he said.

In addition to a recruitment coordinator spreading the word that volunteers are needed within the district, about $8,000 of the money would be spent over the next four years on revamping the district’s Web site.

“We’ll put as much information on it as possible about the organization, making it very user-friendly,” Beck said. “This would be the first place people go to get virtually all of the information about the department; how to apply and where to go for drills to see if they are interested.”

Next, the district will mount a volunteer recruitment marketing campaign for $11,000. That portion will pay for fliers, bulletins, advertisements and banners.

But the bulk of the cash during the next four years would be spent on materials and supplies, he said.

“The most expensive part is the supplies. We’ve got roughly $95,000 in supplies. That covers printing, postage and materials associated with the fliers,” Beck said.

“The goal of this is to reach every resident within the South Whidbey community within our fire district boundary.”

Spencer Webster can be reached at

221-5300 or swebster@southwhidbey

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