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On the Front Lines: Spokane Valley firefighter always wanted to help others in his community

Spokane Valley firefighter Shawn Pichette is photographed Monday. Emergency responders are on the front lines of the COVID-19 outbreak. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Editor’s note: Our new series On the Front Lines recognizes those in the community who are confronting the coronavirus pandemic head-on, while the rest of us do our part by stepping back.

Firefighter Shawn Pichette has always wanted to give back to his community.

For the past 10 years, he has done just that working in the Spokane Valley Fire Department.

“People think firefighters put out fires, but that’s maybe 20% of what we do,” Pichette said. “We’re solving problems for people.”

Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic changing daily life for everyone, not just in Spokane but around the world, Pichette continues to work hard solving the community’s problems.

Pichette said he was naturally drawn to being a firefighter.

The ideals of public service and serving the community were important to him, so after a few years of hopping around to different colleges he settled into Spokane Community College’s fire science program.

Being a firefighter has been everything Pichette hoped.

“Most of the fire service in America is volunteer and I realized now I’m getting paid to do this and it’s a dream come true, and to this point, I still believe that,” Pichette said.

Part of what Pichette said he loves about the job is how no day is the same.

“There’s never been a Groundhog Day,” Pichette said. “Every day we come to work, there’s something different.”

While SVFD still handles its regular calls, it’s also involved in coronavirus pandemic calls, Pichette said.

On those calls, firefighters often start by sending one firefighter into the situation wearing full personal protective gear to see if the person they are contacting can come outside to allow more room to lower the risk of infection.

Mornings at the firehouse look a bit different, too.

Firefighters get a “wellness check” each morning to determine if they are healthy enough to work.

“If we can’t keep ourselves safe, we can’t keep everyone else safe,” Pichette said.

Normal morning equipment checks also double as a time to disinfect gear.

“The station gets disinfected basically head to toe every morning now,” Pichette said.

Then it’s time for the morning meeting, now moved online, in which each fire crew is updated on the latest safety procedures and the state of the community.

After that it’s “business as usual,” Pichette said, and the crew starts taking calls.

For Pichette, being a first responder during the pandemic comes with some of the same worries abundant in the community.

His girlfriend works in health care, so he worries about her being exposed as well. Pichette’s two sons are out of school and are slowly starting to understand the severity of the pandemic, he said.

Missing out on their planned spring break trip to Florida this week really made the crisis real to the 7- and 12-year-old boys, Pichette said.

One thing that helps through it all is how much the Spokane Valley community supports the fire department, Pichette said.

Pichette said the community could support firefighters during the pandemic by following CDC guidelines and diligently practicing social distancing.