The Ocean Shores Fire Department grew by bounds recently as they welcomed six new firefighters to the department.
The effort to bring more bodies onboard as the department grapples with the growing population and call volume has been a long term one, said Chief Brian Ritter, deferring credit to previous fire administrations and the city itself.
“It’s so great that we’re able to add six new positions. It’s a long time coming,” Ritter said in an interview. “I’m just the recipient. The reason we have them is the council and the mayor and the past administration at the fire department.”
The new joins come from near and far, some relatively early in their careers and others with decades of experience. Ritter said the opportunity to help shape the future of the department may have been a powerful draw.
“I think a lot of people have their ideology of what a fire department should be. I sold it as, come build the fire department you’d want to work for,” Ritter said. “We’re growing. We’re not built out. Ocean Shores is still developing. North Beach is still developing.”
Randy Sackmann, one of the new joins, said the chance to be a part of the community rather than part of a more monolithic department was an attractant. Applying in May, Sackmann said the culture and the interesting experience of working in a relatively well-equipped department located on the ocean drew his interest.
“The small-town vibe, the small-town department. Not just gonna be a clock puncher, you’re going to make a difference in the community,” Sackmann said. “After I got the job offer, me and the wife celebrated and brought the kids out to the beach. I’m really happy to be at a place with a good strong culture.”
Ocean Shores’ legacy as a vacation town looms large in the reasons some of the new firefighters offered for joining.
“I vacationed down here over several years. I’ve always loved this area. They posted for a lateral position. I thought, what a wonderful way to spend the second half of my career, on the beach,” said Margie Brueckner, a firefighter/paramedic transferring from a department in Port Angeles. “I’m really looking forward to the (brush trucks) and the ladder truck. Also, meeting the community.”
The new firefighters will allow OSFD to bring its on-duty shift strength up to six per shift, Ritter said.
“It’s huge. It’s huge for our community. It’s huge for our fire department,” Ritter said. “We’re still down one firefighter medic position but this puts us at 24.”
Previously, the relatively low shift numbers meant that, with the extended time medic units might be out transporting casualties to the nearest hospital, the city could be left in a vulnerable position, Ritter said.
“My biggest concern is helping others in their time of need; there’s no more hollow feeling than hearing the tones go out and knowing there will be a delay because we’re short staffed,” Ritter said. “There is no hospital here. There is no walk-in clinic. We’re the highest trained level of medical care out here. We take that seriously. We take pride in taking care of our citizens.”
The new joins will go through three weeks of onboarding before being broken up across the three shifts, Ritter said. After four months, they’ll be rotated to another shift, and then again after another four months, Ritter said, to find the best fit and chemistry.
“We’re so far out from a hospital we need to hire people that are very qualified and are well trained in fire and EMS,” Ritter said. “There’s such long transport times … we’re 30-45 minutes out from care. We have to have the best of the best out here.”
It also has implications for fire operations, Ritter said; having more bodies per shift allows for more support.
“On a fire call we’ll have more bodies. Which lets us do more things. Search and rescue, ventilation, that kind of stuff,” Ritter said. “We all struggled working through COVID working at the bare minimum, people getting sick in house.”
Ritter thanked the mayor and city council for giving the department the funding to expand.
“The council and the mayor voted to increase our utility,” Ritter said. “That’s what pays for our staffing levels.”
The department will be hosting an open house on Oct. 13 from 6 to 9 p.m. for residents, with food and beverages and activities for kids and families, as well as more information about fire safety and equipment and operational demonstrations, Ritter said.
Contact Senior Reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.