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Fire districts welcome new recruits

September 15, 2018

BIG LAKE — Skagit County fire districts 4 and 9 have added 11 new volunteer firefighters.

Ten were sworn in Sunday during the districts’ biennial badge pinning ceremony, while the 11th missed the ceremony because of a work commitment.

The group includes a Bellingham firefighter-paramedic and a former Mount Erie firefighter with 30 years experience.

The fire districts, which serve the Big Lake and Clear Lake areas, typically bring in seven recruits every two years.

“With volunteer fire departments suffering, it’s important to know there are still people stepping up,” said Brett Berg, chief of the two fire districts.

On Sunday, the districts also recognized six officers as they were promoted to lieutenants and captains.

Andrea Nelson, who has experience firefighting, was one of the new recruits of Big Lake’s Fire District 9.

After a 16-year gap in firefighting, Nelson said she joined the district to set a good example for her two sons and to give back to the community.

Nelson’s longtime friend and fellow recruit Erica Martin said she joined so she would have something to do when not working for the Bellingham Fire Department. Martin has been with the Bellingham department for 25 years.

Nelson, Martin and the nine other recruits are good news for the two districts, which had voters reject a merger between the two districts in November.

The merger would have allowed for daytime staffing for both districts — a work shift notoriously difficult to fill by volunteer departments.

“We’re always short on daytime firefighters because people have jobs,” Berg said.

Though there are three daytime volunteers among the new recruits, Berg said that doesn’t make up for the failed merger, which would have improved response times and efficiency.

“If we had another five to eight active (firefighters), that would be awesome,” he said.

Commissioners from both fire districts will meet next month to discuss whether to again pursue a merger. There are currently no plans to put it back on the ballot.

“We don’t know what the future will bring, but we cannot make it with volunteers,” Berg said.

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