The second-largest fire-training class in Spokane Valley Fire Department’s history graduated Friday, with 19 new firefighters ushered into a public service imbued with tradition but evolving as fast as the medical needs of their community.
“You will be an integral part of the fire service in the future,” Fire Chief Mike Thompson told the class, gathered with colleagues, family members and a handful of their restless children in the great room of Spokane Valley’s CenterPlace community center.
Thompson called the recruits “future thinkers,” and went on to describe the changing nature of fire service.
The idea of firefighters trained also as paramedics emerged in the early 1970s, and today all of Valley Fire’s force is certified to handle the medical emergencies that make up most of the department’s calls.
Later decades brought more training in dealing with hazardous chemicals and environmental disasters, Thompson said. Now, plans are in the works locally for an urban search and rescue team, and first responders play a large role in planning responses to terrorism.
One of the biggest changes Thompson said he sees on the horizon is an expanded demand for the firefighters’ medical training.
“I believe that the fire service will be more involved in solutions to our national health care problem,” he said.
More immunization and wellness clinics could be offered at fire stations. Paramedics could begin treating minor ailments in the patient’s home, preventing costly trips to the emergency room.
Someday, Thompson said, he sees firefighters serving in a similar capacity as physician’s assistants, even dispensing and prescribing medicines.
“What will the fire service of the future look like? One thing is for sure, you will be an important part of that future,” he said.
The class he addressed included a former school teacher, an accountant, a graphics designer, military personnel and firefighters from other departments. The new firefighters – all men – range in age from 23 to 45 years old, and two had children born into their families during the 11-week training.
“Being a fireman is a lifestyle, and it does become part of who you are,” Nick Zambryski told his classmates.
One of at least three graduates with family members in the fire service, Zambryski’s father is a retired Spokane city firefighter.
“I always knew what it was about,” he said after the ceremony.
Out of high school, Zambryski joined the Coast Guard as a corpsman.
Wanting to continue his emergency medical career in his civilian life, he trained to be a firefighter and took a job with Fire District 8 before he was invited to attend Valley Fire’s academy.
“Firefighting is hugely based on tradition,” he said.
Allusions to the firefighters and their loved ones becoming one large family peppered the speeches at the ceremony. The sound of bagpipes haunted the procession of the Washington and U.S. flags as two more firefighters in dress garb followed with polished fire axes.
The recruits’ extensive testing, technical training and physical conditioning will be put to use starting Monday. But the 19 graduates started taking pride in their new titles Friday, among snapshots with family and congratulations from local elected officials.
“People are always happy to see a firefighter,” Zambryski said.