It came as a shock to learn Salkum’s fire department — Lewis County Fire District 8 — had won firehouse of the year from the Washington State Firefighters’ Association, said department chief Duran McDaniel. But it also served as a validation, he said, that the department is doing something right.
Lewis County’s other fire districts had a strong showing at the awards, with three volunteer personnel within the county taking home awards for their work at their respective departments.
McDaniel said he submitted a letter to the association, effectively tossing Fire District 8’s hat into the ring for the award. In that letter, he described the department’s history and how it has evolved.
It was one of the first departments in the area to have emergency medical technicians in 1974. It was among the first to get the Jaws of Life to extract individuals from wrecked vehicles in 1976. The crew was among the first to start rescue operations when Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, said McDaniel.
Lately, the department has obtained a mechanical CPR machine that allows EMTs to perform other life-saving duties on individuals while the machine performs chest compressions at a consistent rhythm.
In a span of more than 60 years, 263 volunteers have worked for the Salkum department, meaning several members of the current roster have decades of experience with the department. McDaniel said he’s 40 years in.
These were the aspects of the department McDaniel focused on when writing his submission letter, he said. It was a shock to learn that they had won.
“It’s an honor to be recognized, but it also makes you stop and realize that you are moving forward, you are doing the best you can,” he said. “… It’s a team approach, and for the team to get recognized, it’s just an honor.”
According to a press release from the Washington State Firefighters’ Association, the department was founded in 1959 with eight volunteers. It now has 33 volunteers, said McDaniel, with five stations covering the over 200 square miles of District 8.
Kathy Kassel, with Lewis County Fire District 1 in Onalaska, was given the EMS Responder of the Year award. She’s been with the department for 39 years. She works as the liaison between the department and the public and coordinates the Onalaska High School Fire and Aid Student Technician team.
Capt. Rex Dobbins of Cowlitz/Lewis Fire District 20 was named Washington State Volunteer Fire Officer of the Year. In the 35 years he’s been with the department, he’s held almost every position, according to the press release, including chief.
Jeannette Wood, with Fire District 8, won Support Person of the Year. She joined the department in 2010 and serves as co-treasurer of the department’s EMS/Firefighters’ Association, facility manager for the Salkum Community Meeting Hall, firefighter rehab sector at major emergency events and department uniform purchaser, reads the press release.
McDaniel spoke favorably of the various people from Lewis County who took home awards.
“I worked with these people. They’re all top-notch,” he said.
WSFFA represents more than 400 departments and districts and 14,000 volunteers statewide. The organization vies to champion the interests of volunteer firefighters and EMS responders.