As a volunteer firefighter for East Pierce Fire & Rescue, Patrick Caviness is answering the call to give back to the community he grew up in.
The 23-year-old says his goal when he first started volunteering two years ago was to see if a career in the fire service was a good fit.
“It’s been an incredible experience ever since,” Caviness said. “I get to respond to my hometown. It’s incredibly hands-on. You get to be the light in a dark situation. As their neighbor, you know what their life is like or what they may be going through.”
Caviness is one of 25 volunteer firefighters who serve with career firefighters to help increase staffing, respond to large incidents, volunteer at community events and serve as a trained first responder.
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Chief Bud Backer says volunteer firefighting is a big time commitment. Volunteers must take a basic first aid and CPR course and enroll in an EMT course that’s about 140 to 170 hours of classes over a quarter. Once volunteers pass both of those, they go on to the fire academy. While volunteers help the department respond to calls, each new volunteer costs the fire district nearly $10,000 to equip with gear and uniforms, as well as training.
“It gets people involved to either gain experience in the fire service or serve their community,” Backer said.
Of the 25 volunteers, Backer says the department has a mix of veteran and rookie firefighters. Each of those volunteers must spend at least 12 hours a quarter volunteering.
“We have a strong reliance on them,” he said.
Many of the volunteers, like Caviness, have jobs and other commitments outside of their volunteering. According to Backer, this means a high turnover rate for volunteers.
“About a third of the class will drop out for family commitments,” Backer said. “Another third will leave after getting hired on full time with another department, leaving us with about a third of the volunteers we started with.”
Even with a high turnover rate and significant time commitment, many volunteers see the satisfaction of serving their community.
“If you played team sports or just got out of the (military) service, the fire service has a great sense of team and family,” Backer said. “It’s a good place to get that missing camaraderie feeling.”
To apply to be a volunteer firefighter, contact East Pierce Fire & Rescue by calling 253-863-1800 or visit eastpiercefire.org.