Fire District 3 hopes new childcare option will bolster volunteer force

Island County Fire District 3 plans to establish a drop-in childcare facility where volunteer emergency responders can leave their children while they attend a department training session or race to an emergency.

The phone rings.

The boots, jacket and helmet are ready to go.

There’s just one problem. What to do with the kids?

Island County Fire District 3 plans to provide an answer, with help from a four-year federal grant.

The district plans to establish a drop-in childcare facility where volunteer emergency responders can leave their children while they attend a department training session or race to an emergency.

“We’ve had folks say it’s been a problem, especially when it comes to training sessions,” Fire Chief Rusty Palmer said Thursday. “This should provide an option.”

Palmer said the childcare dilemma may confront as many as a quarter of the district’s 80 volunteers from time to time, and that providing childcare should help recruitment and retention of personnel, one of the fire district’s primary concerns.

The district plans to use a portion of its current $240,000 federal grant to establish a system of childcare. The money also will be used to hire a marketing consultant to develop advertising and other strategies to encourage people to join the department and to keep them onboard.

The district also plans to use some of the money to update its website, Palmer said.

“It’s all a way to get our message out to the public,” he said.

As for childcare, Palmer said the district hopes to locate a certified person, group or small company to set up a center somewhere accessible within the district available day and night. He said he hopes the center can be established before the end of summer.

Palmer said such a facility would be a boon to volunteers eager to attend training sessions or respond to emergencies, but are prevented from doing so because a spouse is working, or some other conflict arises involving their children.

“In such cases, if it’s a choice between responding and staying home, they’re going to stay home,” he said. “This way, they’ll have an alternative.”

“We hope it will help convince younger people to volunteer, and to stay with us for a long time,” he added.

As for marketing, Palmer said the district plans to hire a consultant to develop advertising and other programs to persuade volunteers to continue serving the department.

“We’re looking for a person to help with the retention piece as part of our overall strategy,” he said.

Palmer said the new consultant will be retained through the four-year grant period. Meanwhile, Freeland media consultant Sherrye Wyatt will continue to work on recruitment with funds provided by an earlier federal grant, he said.

As for the district’s website, established about three years ago, Palmer said the current contract is up for renewal and that it’s time for an upgrade.

“When it comes to technology, three years old is geologic time — it might as well be 10,000 years,” he said. “It’s time to make it a little more spiffy.”

Fire District 3 covers 66 square miles south of Greenbank to Clinton. There’s a paid staff of six and about 80 volunteers staffing stations at Freeland, Clinton, Maxwelton, Langley, Saratoga and Bayview.



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