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By Brandon Cline

Goldendale Fire Department needs volunteers


Brandon Cline

Robert Huwe (right) oversees volunteer firefighters participating in drills at the A.M. Todd Company on June 26.

As summer gets underway, the Goldendale Fire Department (GFD) is in dire need of volunteers to help meet the needs of the city.

The GFD, which is made up entirely of unpaid volunteers, currently has 15 firefighters working in the department, but longtime firefighter John Halm said that the department could use 15-20 more volunteers to help ease the burdens of current volunteers.

Halm says that while the GFD isn't receiving a lot of fire calls yet, they are taking more and more medical calls within the city's limits. Those medical calls are somewhat of a new twist for the department, as Klickitat County Rescue 7 used to respond to calls within Goldendale.

The volunteers aren't just fighting fires, as Halm notes.

"We've been called on a little bit of everything," said Halm. That includes responding to gas leaks, decontaminating houses where law enforcement officials performed drug busts, helping people escape the rotary doors at the swimming pool, and pretty much anything that the 911 dispatchers are unsure about.

"Basically what happens is when someone calls 911 and the dispatchers don't know who to send, they send us," said volunteer Robert Huwe, a technology assistant for the Goldendale School District.

Halm estimated that the GFD went on roughly 100 calls in 2016-which includes fire, medical and mutual aid calls, false alarms, and assisting Rural 7-and is expecting their call volume to double this year.

Halm began volunteering for the fire department in 1984, when there were some 30 firefighters volunteering. He had to wait six months before being brought on because of how competitive volunteer spots on the department were.

"It's been an honor to serve the city of Goldendale," said Halm, who says that there's a real camaraderie between the volunteers. "We don't want people to be here a short time and leave. We want dependable people that we can count on. It takes a commitment, and I know how tough it can be."

The firefighters were participating in drills at the A.M. Todd Company mint plant on Monday, sharpening their skills in the event that they get called out on a structural fire. The volunteers were tasked with locating the mock fire inside the warehouse, extinguishing it, and assisting any victims inside the building.

Keith Silen, a retired firefighter who served as the department's fire chief as well as a countless number of other public positions over the decades, was on hand for the training on Monday. He notes that the GFD also acts as a type of social organization where you're able to make friends and interact with other volunteers who share the same passion.

Halm also wants the community to get more involved with the fire department. The Goldendale Firefighters Association (GFA)-which helps support the firefighters and their families, as well as helping the GFD raise money for equipment-meets once per month, but Halm says at the moment there's no real interest from the community, likely because they don't know the GFA exists. He says ideally that the GFA would be able to act as a support group for the firefighters.

"This is about helping out your community and your neighbors," said Noah Halm, John's son and the department's fire chief since 2014. "Think of future generations. My dad's done it, my grandpa's done it, and now my brother and I are doing it."

Halm began volunteering when he was 16 as a junior firefighter, the youngest a volunteer can be. Junior firefighters wear a black helmet instead of a yellow one, and would not be tasked with first responding to a legitimate emergency.

"One of the things that I always hear when I say 'hey, you want to join the fire department?' is 'well, I don't have time for that' or 'I work all of the time,'" said Halm. "Practically none of these firefighters are just sitting at home and waiting for the fire pager to go off. They're working and doing their normal life things. This is a secondary passion for these guys. All of these guys don't have enough time to be doing firefighting."

Prospective volunteers must pass a physical to serve as a firefighter. The firefighters meet and train every Monday night at 7 p.m. at the Goldendale Fire Department. If you are interested in volunteering or being a part of the GFA, you are highly encouraged to attend those Monday meetings. The GFD can be reached for non-emergencies at 773-4240.


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