Washington Fire grows force, utilizes in-house training

Dylan Polk TimesNewspapers

WASHINGTON — Declining numbers in fire calls nationwide haven’t had much of an effect on local departments’ personnel.

In fact, Washington has seen its department grow.

According to Washington Fire Assistant Chief Randy Hurd, the Washington Fire Department increased its number of firefighters by 10 since the beginning of the year, expanding to about 30 full-time firefighters.

“We’re doing good, and our part-time staff has picked up with some more part-timers and increasing the number on that,” Hurd said.

That increase in local firefighters contrasts with national trends that showed a 62-percent drop in fire calls between 1977 and 2013, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

A 21-year veteran, Hurd said new job duties have an affect on recruits, though he doesn’t see those responsibilities as a detriment.

“You’ve got to stay up on your training that they have for each firefighter and paramedic,” Hurd said, adding the firefighting field has expanded beyond simply putting out a structure fire. “There are also different areas of the fire service people can get into, like fire investigations, fire inspecting, stuff like that.”

In addition, Hurd said, medical training allows recruits to serve in a broader capacity. In fact, he added, EMS training can provide greater opportunities for recruits, as many fire departments now require EMS training.

“It’s another one of those abilities that you’re able to have,” Hurd said. “If you solely stuck with firefighting, then that’s all you do, but if you have the EMS training, it gives you a little bit more to work with patients, stuff like automobile accidents; if you’re not trained in EMS, you’re there to work the scene as a firefighter, but if you’re cross-trained, then you can provide first aid and also be a firefighter too.”

While recruitment has proven not to be an issue for Washington, budgetary concerns still loom over the department. The state of Illinois’ ongoing budget crisis continually threatens free training classes offered through the Illinois Fire Service Institute, as well as municipalities that in turn funnel funding into their respective departments, Hurd said.

“If the city is short on money, then we’re short on our budgets,” Hurd said. “But it’s something that happens everywhere.”

Nevertheless, he added, Washington has made the best of what it has.

“Here, we spend what we need and not what we want,” Hurd said. “... We provide in-house trainings, and we try to find ways to build off those in-house trainings to make them better, keep the guys and gals interested so they keep coming. We do have budgetary funds set aside for outside trainings that cost money, but if it’s short on the budget, it’s a limited-type deal that we do; we don’t try to stay consistent with it.”