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News >  Washington

Social distancing changes DNR’s firefighter tests

UPDATED: Wed., May 13, 2020

By Bridget Mire Wenatchee World

WENATCHEE – Prospective firefighters for the state Department of Natural Resources must complete a 3-mile course in 45 minutes – while wearing a 45-pound pack.

But there’s good news for those who passed last year’s test: They don’t have to do it again.

Because of social distancing guidelines due to COVID-19, only new recruits must take the test this year.

“Generally in a normal year, everyone – be it a first-year firefighter or if you’ve been with the DNR for 10 years – everyone has to take the pack test,” said Bobby LaPoint, a Wenatchee-region fire prevention technician. “In a regular year you’ll see eight to 10 people out there taking the pack test at a time. This year with the new requirements, we don’t have as many people to test, so we can spread them out further.”

A pack test Monday at the Wenatchee High School track saw only two participants. Four people took the test last month, LaPoint said, and the next group later this month or next will probably be in the same range.

This is the only pre-employment test DNR requires of firefighters, LaPoint said. They normally also receive training at academies, but those are canceled this year because of COVID-19.

LaPoint said other offices are using Zoom, but locally training can safely be done in a classroom setting. There’s also a field next to the office on Industry Lane past East Wenatchee where people can space out enough to practice skills like rolling out the fire hoses.

Social distancing also has changed the way morning briefings are conducted at a fire, LaPoint said.

“Usually, you can gather around a tailgate or a white board and the incident commander, the person in charge, can give out specific assignments,” he said. “That’s usually kind of a close-huddled meeting. We’re already seeing this year that having that spacing, the messaging is still the same, but you’re so spread out over a parking lot or wide space that it just feels a little awkward sometimes.”

The big challenge he anticipates is when large fires come and hundreds of firefighters have to stay at camps, usually at high schools or state parks.

“It’s close quarters,” he said. “Everyone eats in the cafeteria, everyone sleeps next to each other. That obviously is not going to be the best idea this year.”

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