Fire District 13 staff will take part in Oct. 21 Great Shake Out


October 13, 2021

There was little earth-shattering on the Fire District 13 Commissioners meeting agenda last Friday, but the department will drill next week to prepare for a quake or tsunami.

Capt. Ted Taylor told commissioners that staff will participate in the Oct. 21 Great Shake Out event to prepare the public for safe and orderly responses to major earthquakes, with La Conner area emergency sirens sounding at 10:21 a.m..

Taylor said District 13 personnel will focus on quick mobilization of emergency equipment.

“Our challenge,” he said, “will be to get a signal to our duty crew to get our equipment out (of the station) as quick as possible. If there’s a major earthquake, the doors will jam and you don’t want to have to drive everything through the door.”

The fire district will be making available earthquake preparation packets in Shelter Bay during two three-hour Great Shake Out shifts (9 a.m.-12 p.m .; 3-6 p.m.).

“We hope people will take advantage of this and come out and get the material,” said Taylor. The packets will include two-sided signs reading “Help” and “OK” for residents to display during an earthquake.

“When we have the big one,” Taylor said, “this will be a primitive but effective way for people to let us know if they need help.”

Ironically, the fire district is hopeful of moving earth intentionally at its Snee Oosh Road station. District 13 has received variances from Skagit County and the Swinomish Tribal Community for placement of new on-site residential quarters.

The new building will sit 35 feet from the road rather than the required 110 feet, said Chief Wood Weiss. He cautioned commissioners that there are delays industry-wide in the delivery of modular buildings like what the district is eyeing for its station expansion.

“Supply chain issues,” Weiss explained, “are affecting everything.”

Delivery of some modular buildings is “a year out,” Weiss has been told.

Commissioner John Doyle suggested the fire district seek permission for intermediate use of a trailer, recreational vehicle or other transitional option until a new structure can be installed. He and Weiss will report further on the matter next month.

Weiss reported 103 September service calls. It transported 237 patients in 2021 through last month. Those numbers coincide with a recent surge in reported COVID-19 cases locally and throughout Skagit County. Weiss said there were 29 new cases on Swinomish Reservation in September and more than 300 in the county last week alone.

Personnel numbers continue to climb, Weiss noted.

“We’re losing people, in general, right now,” he said. “There’s no way we can compete with full-time career departments. We’ve lost 10-plus people this year to career positions. So, we have a lot of pieces coming together. When we have new people come in, we have to train them. We’re trying to make sure, then, that we have the commitment from them that we need.”

Commissioners approved a recommendation that stipends be increased through 2021 for shifters and duty chiefs. Weiss proposed shifter pay increases to $16 an hour and hiking the duty chief hourly stipend to $17.50. He advocated bumping the rates another 50 cents per hour in 2022.

“We have people working hard and they deserve to be paid for what they do,” Weiss said.

Weiss said the district has enjoyed success recently recruiting new firefighters from the Skagit Valley College campus.

“You’ve done great work on the recruitment,” said commission chairman Bruce Shellhamer. “Other agencies are hiring them because of their quality.”


* New firefighting gear has been ordered and soon new helmets will be. Some district gear has been in use for more than a decade. “There’s a saying in firefighting,” Weiss quipped, “that you have to fight a fire like you’re naked. But we don’t want people in that situation. We want them protected.” The helmets will bear color codes to designate department ranks.

* Commissioner J.J. Wilbur, also a Swinomish Senator, suggested that the tribe be formally approached about possible assistance with fire district information technology and communications upgrades. “We have a full IT department,” Wilbur said. “You could talk to the tribe and see if we could potentially help since District 13 does such a great job in the tribal community. You need to get something together for the tribe and then get some direction on what they can do.”


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