Four new firefighters started with the Longview Fire Department on March 1 thanks, in part, to a federal grant.
It’s the first time in eight years that the department has hired so many new firefighters at one time.
All four are between the age of 24 and 26 — younger than 30, the average age of a new Longview recruit, Interim Fire Chief Jim Kambeitz said Tuesday. But they all have prior education and experience in firefighting and emergency medicine.
“I think it’s impressive that all of them are coming in with experience, education and maturity,” Kambeitz said. “They are just all good people all the way around.”
He added that the new recruits will bring firefighting staffing levels in the community closer to the recommended standard but won’t completely fill the gap.
Many of the new hires said during interviews with The Daily News on Tuesday that Longview’s sense of family is what attracted them to the position.
Bryson Lemire, a firefighter and EMT, said he spent time with the Hillsboro, Clackamas and Longview fire departments before interviewing for open positions.
“I enjoyed the camaraderie with the people here,” Lemire said. “They made me feel at home even though I wasn’t hired yet.”
Lemire, 26, earned his bachelor’s degree in business and psychology from Eastern Washington University before deciding to become a firefighter. He attended an EMT school in Vancouver, where he lives, and spent a year interning with Clark County Fire and Rescue.
He said he’d like to go to paramedic school some day, but even if that doesn’t happen, “being surrounded by so many good paramedics will make me a good EMT.”
Castle Rock resident Tyler Traver, 24, attended the Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue cadet program while in high school. After graduating, he earned a degree in fire science from Chemeketa Community College in Salem. He said he likes being a firefighter because it is hands-on, intense and spontaneous.
“I like the teamwork aspect,” he said. “You watch somebody’s back and they watch yours.”
Traver, a firefighter and paramedic, said he wants to continue to improve his skills and training during a long career with Longview.
“I’m familiar with the community and I like the idea of working in it,” he said.
Firefighter and paramedic David Owings, 25, received a degree in fire science technology from Lower Columbia College and interned at East County Fire and Rescue in Camas for about two years.
Before he was hired at Longview, Owings was a part-time firefighter at Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue for about three and a half years.
“Longview is a multifaceted system, and there are so many opportunities to be involved: paramedicine, fighting fires, confined space rescue,” Owings said. “Being across the river for so long, I love this area. I feel like I learned to fight fires in this community.”
He and his wife, Samantha, live in Vancouver but would like to move to Cowlitz County at some point, he said.
“I’m hoping for a successful probationary year and I want to set myself up for a long career with Longview,” he said. “I’m excited to learn more about the different missions Longview has and how I can fit in with them.”
Skylar Daugherty, a paramedic and firefighter, attended the firefighting academy at Chemeketa Community College when he was 19.
Daugherty, now 25, then volunteered as a firefighter while he was also working full-time as a medical assistant and serving in the Oregon National Guard for eight years.
He spent one year at flight medical school in Texas and then was deployed in Iraq for one year. Daugherty returned to his hometown in Sherwood, Ore., six months ago but moved to Vancouver soon afterwards to be with his girlfriend.
“When I researched the Longview Fire Department, everybody had nothing but good things to say,” he said. “It strikes me as a family. I could see myself migrating up here in a couple years.”
All four will attend the fire academy starting on April 1 and are expected to be on the job by early July.
Owings, Daugherty and Traver were all hired as part of a federal grant program that covers 75 percent of the costs of three new firefighter paramedics for the first two years and then covers 35 percent the third year.
Wages, benefits, training and equipment costs for the three new firefighters during the first three years are estimated to be about $1.18 million, Kambeitz said. However, Longview will only have to pay about $605,700 of that. After three years, the city will cover all costs.
Lemire was hired at the same time as the others to replace a staff member who resigned last year. A firefighter EMT typically costs the city about $97,000 during his or her first year, Kambeitz said.
Before hiring the three firefighters as part of the grant, Longview had 10 firefighters on duty at any given time. With the support of three firefighters from Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue, that means about 13 firefighters have been responding to fires in the area, Kambeitz said. The standard recommendation is to have a minimum of 20 firefighters at industrial fires and 15 at single-family dwelling structures.
“We’re very appreciative of the City Council and ultimately the citizens for their support to help us get closer to national standards of firefighters on the scene,” Kambeitz said.