After winter windstorm training success, FD 13 eyes wildfire exercise


April 17, 2024

A recent training exercise was so well-received that Skagit County Fire District 13 officials are considering another such drill in the La Conner area later this year.

The March 30 windstorm scenario was so successful that the local fire district, which serves rural La Conner and the Swinomish Reservation, may stage a wildland fire training event during the peak of dry summer conditions here.

“I suggest we have a similar drill for a wildland fire on the reservation,” Capt. Ted Taylor told fire district commissioners during their meeting at the Snee Oosh Road station April 11.

“I think wildland fires are our greatest threat,” said Taylor, the district’s emergency management coordinator. “I’d like to put something together in August.”

Commission chair Bruce Shellhamer and board member John Doyle offered their support, citing the effectiveness of last month’s windstorm training.

Doyle noted that the windstorm exercise, which came off smoothly, revealed the need to establish spending authority rules in an emergency.

“I’d like to evaluate how this is done elsewhere,” Doyle said. “We want to avoid a situation where we have money in the bank and then not being able to spend it in an emergency. It’s something we need to sort out before a major event happens. That’s what the exercise was all about. It was a very good drill, a real complex drill.”

Taylor concurred.

“I thought the drill we had was excellent,” he said, offering praise to Capt. Gary Ladd for its planning and execution.

About three dozen people joined fire district personnel for the training.

“The primary objective was to determine the effectiveness of our ability to communicate to a unified command,” Ladd said. “That was extremely successful.”

Ladd said HAM radio operators from Anacortes were among the day’s participants. They later agreed to offer a class in Shelter Bay, he said.

Ladd and Capt. Jesse Strinden said the exercise benefited from input on unified command structures provided by Brad Reading, a Shelter Bay resident who spent four decades in fire services in south Snohomish County.

“He’s a wealth of knowledge,” Ladd said of Reading.

“Brad was helping us out with a lot of information,” Strinden said.

Looking ahead to potential wildland fire training, Shellhamer and Doyle said the windstorm exercise can serve as a road map going forward.

“We can implement some of the things that we learned from this one,” Shellhamer said.

“It was a great experience,” Doyle said. “It seems like it was something that was instructive for everyone.”

District Training Officer Chris Olbu said other preparedness opportunities loom, including extrication and marina drills.

“Our goal is to do a drill at the La Conner Marina after having drilled at the Shelter Bay Marina in the past,” Olbu said.

In addition, District 13 officials were invited to weigh in on proposals to convert First Street in La Conner to one-way traffic to better accommodate emergency vehicles dispatched downtown.

Commissioner Doyle, who previously served a long tenure as town administrator, offered historical perspective to the matter.

“We’ve done it before,” he recalled. “We did it 15 or 20 years ago for a full season. The shop owners didn’t like it.”

District 13 Fire Chief Wood Weiss said people have contacted him regarding the proposal.

“It’s hard (going down First Street) with emergency vehicles when there’s not two full lanes,” Olbu said.

Weiss didn’t commit to an endorsement of switching First Street to one-way traffic but did repeat his preference for staffing on a trial basis two district firefighters/EMTs at the Summit Park station for 12-hour shifts two days per week.

“I think it’s worthwhile,” Weiss said.

District Medical Officer Drew Farrell pointed out that response time from Summit Park to the Swinomish Casino & Lodge is 3 minutes versus 12 minutes from the SneeOosh station.

“And if we’re over there we can help with motor vehicle accidents,” Weiss said.

Weiss said he will address the subject further with the district’s firefighter corps.

Ladd shared that the Skagit Bay Search & Rescue vessel, now to be attached to the fire district, has been renamed Marine 13.

Commissioners meet next in open session on May 9.


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