ARLINGTON – Arlington Fire and the Marysville Fire District have banded with several other local districts to establish a closer-to-home fire training academy.
South Snohomish County Fire and Rescue District 1, a regional fire authority that serves more than 250,000 residents in Lynnwood, Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace, Brier and unincorporated south county, is hosting the academy.
“This is the first time we’ve done this,” Arlington Deputy Fire Chief Dave Kraski told the City Council during a presentation to get their approval for a one-year agreement.
While at the academy, recruits will work to earn their Fire Fighter 1 certification, learning fire service principles through classroom instruction and rigorous hands-on live fire training.
The new facility will be a more-convenient alternative to the state academy in North Bend, a state-of-the-art operation that receives 300 requests to enter but has a six-month waiting list and space for only about 90 recruits, who must be sponsored by a fire agency.
Kraski said an academy was high on former Arlington Fire Chief Bruce Stedman’s to-do list when he left to become chief at District 1.
“This was one of his big ambitions when he went there, because he wanted to have an academy modeled after what he was used to in Southern California” earlier in his firefighting career, Kraski said.
Marysville Battalion Chief and training officer Todd Furness is looking forward to a new academy.
Furness says the biggest advantage is having a facility close by where standardized training can happen for local agencies already partnering in other ways and providing mutual aid in a profession that is doing a lot of hiring.
“There has been a lot of retirements and turnover, and everybody is hiring,” Furness said, adding that’s why the wait list is so long in North Bend.
At the new academy, recruits will get similar training from existing Snohomish County firefighters, train on the same equipment and access fire rigs set up the same way to be better prepared when they start their duties with their new department.
Among the recruits who will make up the inaugural class, Arlington is sending one entry-level firefighter. Marysville is sending three personnel – two firefighters and a paramedic.
Kraski said putting a recruit through the academy will cost about $7,000, based on a class of 30 recruits, and in line with what it costs to attend the state academy with room and board included. By comparison, the Snohomish County facility will have some upstart needs that will put the cost at the same level, but recruits will be able to go home every day.
He added while the money to send a recruit isn’t included in fire’s 2018 budget, the department has enough funds from unspent grants and donations to cover it.
While Arlington City Councilmember Debora Nelson supports a fire training academy, she questioned using taxpayer dollars to train a recruit who could later move on to another district.
“Are they committing to stay with our department for any length of time for that education that they are receiving?” she asked.
Kraski said there is no contractual agreement regarding that. Police Chief Jonathan Ventura said case law related to police labor contracts says that can’t be a requirement.
Nelson also asked about overtime that could increase due to backfilling to cover the missing recruit’s shifts. The council will be talking about long-term financial sustainability for fire and police at its annual retreat later this month. Kraski said he couldn’t guarantee there won’t be overtime, but he said he would work through shift realignment to minimize the impact.
Arlington has firefighters with certificates from both accredited and non-accredited agencies, as well as trained instructors who teach through Everett Community College’s Fire Science Program, a pipeline that has brought many prospective firefighters to Arlington. Larger cities such as Seattle, Spokane and Tacoma run their own academies.
The new academy will be located in South Everett just off 128th Street near Mariner High School. The parties plan to pursue accreditation.Training will start on March 19 and run through the end of June.