500 Mid-Columbia firefighters scheduled for live fire training in Kennewick
What started as an experiment in training firefighters locally is turning into a regular event in the Tri-Cities.
Starting Monday, 17 firefighters will start a 15-week training program at the regional fire recruit academy — without having to leave home.
With Kennewick looking to open a new fire station, and Pasco and Richland replacing retiring firefighters, it will be the largest class ever trained in the area.
Much like police departments rely on a state academy in Burien to train new officers, firefighters have traditionally gone to North Bend or Tacoma to train, said Richland Fire Capt. Adam Hardgrove.
Once there, they spent 12 weeks with other new hires across the state.
Now, Kennewick, Richland and Pasco have teamed up to hold the new academy, the fourth in the region, and the second to involve all three cities.
It’s starting to attract attention from other fire departments, as they look to find new places to train recruits before putting them on an engine.
“We’ll be able to start them quicker and keep them closer to their families,” Hardgrove said. “The success of the academy has certainly been noticed.”
Pasco began the new local academy in 2017, and Richland joined in in February 2018.
Training the firefighters locally cut costs in half, said fire officials.
Kennewick signed on during a spring academy, adding their firefighting facilities on Ely Street to help.
The local teamwork was one of the biggest benefits, said Kennewick Chief Vince Beasley when he talked about it following last summer’s devastating fire in south Kennewick.
But forming those ties with future co-workers is just one benefit.
The traditional training at North Bend gets firefighters ready to work, but the tactics they learn don’t always translate well to the open terrain of the Mid-Columbia, Hardgrove explained.
So, local fire departments spent more weeks retraining fire crews for what they would face in the Tri-Cities region.
At the local academy, they’ll also learn how to battle fast-moving grass fires, get their hazardous material certification.
They’ll do all of this with the same equipment and following the same policies that they’ll use on the job.
No more waiting
One of the biggest benefits for the local departments is that they’ll get the new firefighters when they need them.
The state used to offer eight academies a year, but that’s been cut to just two annually in North Bend. And they no longer use Bates Technical College in Tacoma, Hardgrove said.
This year they would have needed to hire their crews and have them ready by January for the only training scheduled for the year.
The local academy will be able to have the new recruits ready by June, Hardgrove said.