June 27, 2017
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Volunteering

Question:  What do a school teacher, business owner, engineer, lawyer and construction worker have in common?

Answer:  They are all volunteer firefighters in the Bainbridge Island Fire Department.  While the careers and jobs held by our volunteers are very diverse, our volunteers are united by their desire to serve the community.   Volunteer firefighters comprise approximately two-thirds of the estimated 1.2 million firefighters in the United States and are some of the many heroes of our own community.  Their purpose is multi-faceted, their training is rigorous, and their hearts are driven.

Since its beginning, the BIFD has relied on volunteers to provide service to our community.  Although we continue to rely on volunteers, the Island's population growth to over 23,000, and the subsequent increase in call volume have dictated that we become a combination fire department where our career and volunteer members work side-by-side.

Volunteers provide a cost-effective service to the Department and the citizens of Bainbridge Island.  However, recruiting and retaining volunteers remains a challenge. Statistics show that the number of volunteer firefighters nationwide has declined as much as 10 percent over the last 20 years. While there is no single reason for the decline in volunteers, retention and recruitment problems usually can be traced to several underlying factors including more demands on people's time in a hectic modern society, more stringent training requirements, and a decline in the sense of civic responsibility. Bainbridge Island is no exception to this trend.

The Island has experienced dramatic changes in the last fifteen years and many of these changes have affected volunteers and how they respond to emergency incidents.  For example, increased property values have changed the demographics of the Island.  Young working-class individuals, who were historically a key source of volunteers, can no longer afford to live here.  New, high-end homes are usually purchased by older buyers, who are generally less likely to become volunteer firefighters.  In addition, more and more residents are commuters and are not on the Island during the day and have limited availability during at night because of family obligations and work responsibilities. Personal demands like these can make it difficult to become a volunteer. Federal and state regulations mandate the level of training necessary to become a volunteer firefighter.

After successful completion of physical and psychological testing, newly accepted recruits receive emergency medical and fire suppression training.  After obtaining their Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification, the recruits attend the Fire Training Academy in North Bend where they learn about fire behavior, firefighting tactics, and hazardous material responses in order to obtain their Basic Firefighter 1 certification. But the training does not stop there.  In order to maintain and hone their skills, volunteer members participate in drills every Tuesday night.

The extensive education and training our volunteer members receive, allows them to work seamlessly alongside our career members in serving the public. The members of the Bainbridge Island Fire Department are a family.  We acknowledge the tradition of volunteerism within the Department, but even more than that, we see brothers and sisters in pursuit of the same thingservice to our community.