All Fired Up


March 14, 2024

Rick Brown, Adrenaline Project X.

Jason Lewis fights a fire at the Washington State Fire Academy

There's been a lot of water under the proverbial bridge for 26-year-old Jason Lewis: from Maricopa, Arizona, to Cathlamet, to South Korea, and to the Long Beach Peninsula.

A 2016 graduate of Wahkiakum High School, Lewis is currently enrolled in the Washington State Fire Academy, along with 24 of his fellow cadets, including Hannah Mendez and Leanne Campbell, both with the Cathlamet Fire Department.

Recently, The Eagle had a chance to slow Lewis down for a few minutes. Get his thoughts on 'life at the academy,' volunteerism, the fire service, the active roster for Wahkiakum County's District 4 Fire, and where the road may take him after graduation.

The Eagle: Why the fire service, Jason?

Lewis: It's an exciting job. I do plan on having a full-time career somewhere in the fire service. Hopefully somewhere close like Longview or Ridgefield. But right now, I just enjoy being able to help the community. To be there when people need you.

The Eagle: Do you think your military background has helped prepare you for working in the fire service?

Lewis: Absolutely. Prior to the military, I didn't have a very good work ethic and the military helped instill that work ethic. It gave me a better understanding of what it is I want to do with my life.

The Eagle: Talk about the academy, Jason. Where? What? How often? How many cadets?

Lewis: The academy is held on the (Long Beach Peninsula). Author's Note – This Volunteer Firefighter Academy in Pacific County takes advantage of live fire facilities located at the Washington State Fire Training Academy at North Bend, as well as at the Fire Response and Research Center (MERTS) headquartered at Clatsop Community College near Astoria, to help train and prepare firefighters like Lewis. His is a 17-week program culminating in, with successful final testing, the cadets receiving their FireFighter 1 certification.

We have 25 cadets; we started with 26, but we did have one drop out. It's one of the bigger classes they've had. We go on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Eagle: The cadets, Jason. All from Washington state?

Lewis: Yes, they're all from Washington state. This program is approved by the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA), but being coordinated and held in conjunction with the Washington State Patrol (WSP); thus, these courses are limited only to residents of Washington.

The Eagle: The coursework itself is a combination of classroom and hands-on?

Lewis: For Tuesdays and Thursday, you're expected to study the material (you're given) on your own, and then you go over that material. Those are days for any questions that arise from those sections. Saturdays are all hands-on days. We start the day by donning and doffing our PPE (Personal Protection Equipment), with the goal being to have it on properly in under 60 seconds. This, plus donning an SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus, aka an "air pack"), also in under 60 seconds. It's all hands-on.

The Eagle: A Two part question, Jason. What aspect of the academy do you find the most challenging, and what's your favorite part?

Lewis: The most challenging part of the academy, so far, would have to be remembering the small details. If you constantly say (aloud) what you're doing, then you'll pass the test when Test Day comes. Sometimes when we're donning and doffing our PPE, we don't (recite the process out loud), and it does make a difference when it comes to remembering the small details, like a buckle here or your hood's not right because you were in such a rush. My favorite part has to be learning from career firefighters. Our instructors have over 40 years of combined service, so learning from them and their's just very interesting to learn from them. Our primary instructor, Mike DeConto, tells us how many things have changed in the fire service since he went through the academy. How things were in the past, and how (the service) has evolved.

The Eagle: Graduation is when, Jason? And what about post-graduation plans?

Rick Brown, Adrenaline Project X.

The instructors combine their 40 years of experience to teach cadets at the academy.

Lewis – Graduation is set for Saturday, May 4th. My plans after graduation are to use my knowledge to better assist when we respond to calls here in Wahkiakum County. After that, I'm going to work on my college degree and then in animal health science. My goal is to become a paid (career) firefighter somewhere, but remain a volunteer here in Wahkiakum as well, and open up a veterinarian clinic here in Wahkiakum County.

To all the men and women who volunteer their time, services, and their expertise to the people of Wahkiakum County, including the rosters of the Cathlamet Fire Department, Puget Island/District 1, Skamokawa/District 2, Grays River/District 3, and Wahkiakum County Fire District 4, your work and your sacrifice is indeed greatly appreciated.


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