April 15-21 was National Volunteers week and who better to honor than the Bay Center Volunteer Fire Department. With roots deep in the Chinook Nation and a department operated all by volunteers who give their time. They are well deserving of being chosen for this years spotlight.
Sunday, April 22 four members from the BCVFD were apart of a practice fire burn in Seaview and took time after they returned to sit down and talk a little bit about the department and why they have chosen to volunteer. They were tired and they were fresh off the fire, but they were back at station and ready for whatever came next, including an interview.
The Fire Department sits somewhat hidden near the corner of Harrison and Bay Center Rd and houses three fire engines and an ambulance. The department has ten volunteers: Fire Chief Jessica Lorton, Assistant Fire Chief Hugh Ahnatook, Captain Ken Shupe, Firefighter Paige Coleman, FF Iris Shupe, FF Norena Hernandez-Lorton, FF Johnny Dominguez, FF Kayla Dominguez, FF Matt Bowling and FF Conor Lagergren. Jessica Lorton along with Glen Killingbeck and Vicki Killingbeck serve as commissioners. They all are from the community, donating their time and commitment to ensure their community is safe and protected.
On average the department can see five to six fire calls a year and overall can see about 80-100 calls for the entire year. Most of the apparatus the department receives comes as hand-me-downs from larger departments that get new gear or apparatus. "One of the trucks we got rid of actually went down to the Fire Service Museum in Salem, OR," Lorton stated. "That's how old that was when it left. One of the newer trucks we have came from Hoquiam when they upgraded."
The department received their Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA's) from Long Beach and recently received some hoses from the South Bend Volunteer Fire Department. "When other departments upgrade," Coleman stated. "My understanding is they often think of us like, 'Oh, Bay Center will take it,' which is great for us because we can get somewhat updated equipment."
Commissioner Vicki Killingbeck's grandfather donated the land for the fire department. "This was his land, he donated it and built the fire department," Chief Lorton said. "I believe back I think in the late 1950's. So being apart of here is kind of a family thing for us."
The Nemah Volunteer Fire Department and BCVFD have a mutual aid agreement and help each other out. "We have the mutual aid agreement," Chief Lorton said. "They respond to our calls and we respond to there's. We make sure each other are taken care of." Raymond Fire also responds to medical calls as they are the north county advanced life support agency.
Some of the diverse staff from the community
Chief Lorton has been volunteering with the department for around 11 years and has been the Fire Chief for the last 3. Her dad was on the department before she was born and she has been around it her entire life. She currently works at Willapa Harbor Hospital and donates a large portion of her spare time to the department. When she became the Fire Chief she admits the department was operating on old and out of date equipment and has spent the last several years doing all she can to change that. She has brought in a newer truck along with updated firefighter PPE.
Ahnatook has been a member of the department since August of 2017 and was voted in by members to serve as Assistant Chief rather quickly. With him he brought an estimated 32 years of firefighting experience with a background in both wildland and structural firefighting. "I was up at the Three-Rivers and La Push Fire Department and I'm very glad to be here," he stated. "I was honored to be voted in as AC and Training Officer. Just being a part of the fire department gets me extremely excited."
Coleman started her volunteer career also in August of 2017 and is said even by herself to be the newbie of the department with no prior experience. Coleman is well known as the Director of TAC in Pacific County working out of the Valley View building in Raymond. "I would probably have to say I'm the new enthusiastic person of the fire department," she said as she chuckled. "Hugh and I both are currently part of the Firefighter-1 Academy taught down in Seaview by Pacific County Fire District 1."
Hernandez-Lorton has been a part of the department for the last 9 years after moving to the area from Virginia. Chief Lorton's family introduced her to the department. She previously has worked for the Quinault Indian Nation as a Wildland Firefighter and currently works for First Premier Bank in Raymond. "I kinda have just stuck around and did this," she said. "I stopped for a bit and took some time off because we started a family. But, I'm back and ready to do it again."
The driving force behind almost all volunteer fire departments is the volunteers who without even a second thought are willing to sacrifice not only there time, but themselves for the community they are apart of. In Washington state an estimated 80% of fire departments are volunteer ran. "It's an great opportunity to help out the community," Coleman said. "It's certainly a great way to get to know people and give back."
She continued, "Because we live in such a small town and even Raymond and South Bend I imagine it's somewhat similar that when you look at if something happens who is gonna help? You're pretty much looking at yourself, your friend, your neighbors."
According to Fire Chief Lorton the department is still looking for and welcoming all volunteers. There are no specific requirements to be a volunteer no matter what age or ability there is a position that can be found whether that's being a regular firefighter or even just a engine operator. "We recently actually had a conversation that there doesn't have to be an age limit," Coleman stated. "There are so many different ways to help the department. Even someone in their 70's or 80's can help."
Anyone interested can contact Chief Lorton at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the station at 360-208-4184. The Bay Center Volunteer Fire Department also has a facebook and instagram account. The department is also looking for someone who is familiar with grant writing to help them apply for grants.