(COLIN HAFFNER/Chewelah Independent)
HERE TO SERVE: Quiet year so far for Chewelah Fire Department, but volunteers remain vigilant as summer heats up…
Cooler, wetter weather in July has slowed the dangers of fire this summer so far, but that danger can change in an instant with the potential of hotter and drier weather seemingly on its way.
This is all not to say that the dangers of fire are not ever-increasing year-round, as Chewelah Fire Chief Dave DeVeau points out.
In recent years, DeVeau says, fires have been seen starting as early as April. This year, wildfires began as early as March, with state officials noting roughly double the numbers of fires reported in 2019 to date as the same time frame in 2018.
The recent lightning strikes in the region, igniting some brush fires on Quartzite Mountain, lend support that the summer wildfire season is approaching.
DeVeau, who points out his expertise is more in dealing with structural fires with 25 years fire service in Austin, Tex. before coming to Chewelah, however, points out that Chewelah has had a fairly quiet year with fires of any kind. The city fire department has responded to just three wildland fires so far this year.
“Chewelah call volume has been way down this year. We have responded to only 3 wildland fires, and zero structure fires so far this year,” DeVeau said.
This time of year it’s important to be diligent in reporting any spot of smoke since there is a complete burn ban in place, DeVeau says, adding that during burning season, people may see a number of smoke columns out but dispatchers should know about any controlled burns in the area.
When the fire department does get a call about a fire, structural or wildland, they respond from a force built with volunteers, currently 28 in total.
DeVeau says they have room for more volunteers, with a cap at 35 total. He says there is no required experience to become a volunteer, but those interested need to be team oriented and willing to go through training.
“Zero experience is required, we just look for individuals that are team players, can follow orders, are in decent shape, and are willing to learn. We have an eight week training period. New people can’t actively engage fire until they complete the training and show sufficient skills,” DeVeau said.
Having a force of volunteers means not everyone can make each call, though they are all on call 24/7/365, DeVeau says.