The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Firefighting offers fun, friends, service

Reporter drafted into service


Diana Zimmerman

Two local firefighters practice opening a door with a Halligan Bar and an axe. The forceable entry prop had three stations: a window, a door with hinges on the outside, and a door with hinges on the inside.

After watching several volunteer firefighters practice opening doors on a forcible entry prop last Thursday at the District 4 Fire Station, I found out I was going to do it, too. I may have secretly wished I could give it a try, but I didn't really see it coming. I was just there to gather information for a newspaper article and shoot some photos.

"It's your turn," Instructor Mike Karvia, who is also assistant chief of Training for the Pacific County Fire Department, said to me shortly after I met him. Before I knew it, I was getting zipped into a jacket, handed a helmet, protective eye gear, and gloves, and Karvia was explaining what to do if it was my job to open a door in the event of a structure fire.

And he was deadly serious. After opening the first practice door, which had hinges on the outside and opened out, we moved to the second door, which had hinges on the inside and opened inward. At one point I thought I'd successfully gained entry, and stopped to celebrate.

"You didn't get that door open," Karvia said to me.

It didn't matter that I was just a reporter. He was not about to let me, or anyone else, do it halfway.

I opened that door.

Suddenly I understood something about why the other firefighters were there. I was having fun. I was learning something new, using my body and my mind, and remembering that feeling of a job well done. And hopefully, somewhere along the way, I was making some new friends.

"It's like having another family," Annie Howell said of volunteering for the fire department on Tuesday. She'd been there on Thursday, practicing alongside everyone else.

The forcible entry prop travels around the state for training thanks to Howard Scartozzi from the Washington State Fire Training Academy. After taking it all over Pacific County for training, Karvia asked his colleague Matt Beaulaurier, who is the fire chief for District 4, if he would like an opportunity to use it for training here in Wahkiakum County.

Beaulaurier sent out an invitation to all the departments in the county, and members of the Puget Island Fire Department and the Grays River Fire Department showed up.

"It's a marvelous prop," Karvia said. "You can use it to show people the basics of how to hold the tools like the Halligan and the axe; how to give commands; and how to be as efficient as you want to be when your assignment is forcible entry into a door. The prop has an outward opening door, and inward opening door, and a window. We can open up padlocks, and show people all these various techniques, whether they are brand new or seasoned, and promote best practices. Everybody loves it."

After practice ended that evening, the prop was packed up for travel. Scartozzi was taking it to Colville the next day to be used for training by firefighters there.

The District 4 Fire Department responds to structure fires, wild land fires, motor vehicle accidents, and handles extractions. Currently they have 24 volunteers. Like every department in the county, they can always use more.

"If people want to volunteer, they don't have to be 20 years old and run every day," Beaulaurier said. "There is a role for almost everyone. Some people just drive fire engines. We're pretty fortunate, but we can always use more volunteers. People work, or go out of town, and you always need people to be around to answer the radio."

They even need help with office work.

The department provides training and gear for volunteers, according to Beaulaurier.

Diana Zimmerman

District 4, Puget Island, and Grays River volunteer firefighters trained on a forceable entry prop provided by the Washington State Fire Training Academy last Thursday night.

"We're willing to go as far as you want," he said. "Some people want to show up and drive a truck, other people want to go to fire academy and get the same certification that I have."

Elochoman Valley resident M.D. Johnson has been volunteering with the department for about a year. Johnson is an avid outdoorsman and freelance writer for several magazines, including Field and Stream.

"My only regret," he said, "is that I didn't do this 25 or 30 years ago. I really enjoy it. They've turned me into a tender operator. These young guys are the ones who are really doing the hard work and getting into the buildings and doing the front line stuff. I love to know it and assist these guys any way I can. And the grandkids think that it's really cool."

The grandkids are right.

While you think about volunteering, consider this:

Beaulaurier recommends changing the batteries in your smoke detectors twice a year, when daylight savings time begins and ends.


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