When wildfires strike, whether in Washington State or in other parts of the county, it is not uncommon to be asked the question, “is West Pierce sending firefighters to help?” Typically, the initial reply is “no,” but there is more to the answer.
WPFR’s jurisdiction is one of the most densely populated in Pierce County, meaning there are no large rural spaces like in neighboring fire districts. Because of this, WPFR does not train its firefighters in wildland firefighting, as that skill set is not commonly used and requires additional hours of annual training to maintain appropriate wildland certifications. However, this doesn’t mean WPFR isn’t equipped to handle brush fires, as crews are properly trained and equipped to respond to such calls.
While WPFR firefighters do not respond to wildland fires in a traditional sense, they do respond when a structural team is requested. This means firefighters respond to protect the structures nearby threatened by a wildfire. This most recently happened in both Bonney Lake and Graham, as these incidents required protection of homes and businesses, which is where a structural team of firefighters is most commonly used.
In addition to on-duty firefighters assisting locally in neighboring jurisdictions, many WPFR personnel are highly trained members of local incident management teams as well as FEMA Urban Search and Rescue teams. Recently, the Washington State Task Force-1 FEMA Urban Search and Rescue team was deployed to Oregon to assist in search and rescue missions following devastating wildfires. Three WPFR personnel deployed with the team for approximately two weeks.
West Pierce personnel were also activated as part of the Pierce County Incident Management Team. Members of the team spent nearly a week in Bonney Lake supporting the mission of the Sumner Grade fire. Subsequently, additional members were deployed for two weeks supporting the COVID-19 response of the Chelan-Douglas Health District. Earlier this year, this same team responded to assist the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department with their COVID-19 response, so many of these individuals were already prepared to assist in this environment.
These teams have been requested by various agencies in need locally, statewide and nationally over the past few years. While they may not be directly involved in fighting wildfires, these skilled professionals are able to fulfill critical roles during large-scale incidents and disasters of all types.
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