Thursday, July 15, 2010

East Olympia Firefighters Are Ready

By Janine Gates

East Olympia volunteer firefighters got their first chance in two years to fight an actual house fire in a live training exercise held yesterday on Normandy Road in Thurston County.

The three hour exercise involved about 20 firefighters, according to Fire Chief Mel Low. “We usually get about one house donated to us a year but we’ve gone two years without one,” said Low.

It is a National Fire Protection Association requirement to provide live fire training before volunteers can be involved in a real call. This past winter, volunteers were sent to Tenino to participate in a live fire training exercise.

Asked how houses come into their hands, Low said citizens contact them when they have bought land and don’t need or want the existing structure, or want to build a new house. To prepare the house for the training, it has to have the asbestos removed, but they don’t take out the carpeting or take off the shingles, because that would change the behavior of the fire and wouldn’t be realistic.

“When we get a house, we usually like to use it for two to three months and utilize it to its fullest capacity. In this case, the house was given to us just two weeks ago, so we’ve had 10 days to use it before the county burn ban goes into effect today through October 15th,” said Low. In the last ten days, the house has been used extensively for training in search and rescue and trapped firefighters.

In yesterday’s exercise, plywood and cardboard was set up and crews took turns going in and putting out the fire, each having multiple opportunities to be the first one in.

Above: East Olympia firefighters train in a live exercise yesterday on Normandy Road.

The East Olympia Fire District covers 30 square miles, and protects a population of 14,000 and 5,500 homes. The district has 16 paid employees and 47 volunteers, mostly young people. They have six to ten volunteers on duty each shift, and beds for thirteen.

East Olympia staffs two fulltime engine companies, one on each side of the railroad tracks: Station Headquarters on Normandy, Station #61, and Station #64, on Old Highway 99 near The Barn Nursery.

An average of 65 trains a day run through East Olympia, including eight Amtrak trains. The rest are freight trains. Almost all the freight trains carry hazardous material.

The district gets about six to ten volunteers a year and can always use more, says Low.

For more information, contact the East Olympia Fire District at (360) 491-5533 or go to their website at

Above: An East Olympia firefighter rests after training yesterday.