The Cheney Fire Department has welcomed three local college students to their resident firefighter program, bringing their total outfit to the maximum of six residents.
Nineteen-year old Cole Gerard and 18-year-old Slater Stanbaugh, both of Eastern Washington University, along with 22-year old Tanner Steffan of Spokane Community College will continue to learn the nuances of fire fighting in the two-year program which is designed for students who are interested in the fire service, medical profession and/or simply helping people.
“We’ve been down a few people here for quite awhile through people resigning and people moving on to other things,” Fire Chief Mike Winters said about the resident program. “You know it’s good because now we are back up to full strength. We’ve got a full core here to help us cover the days.”
The three young men were offered a position of employment after undergoing an interview process while also being required to pass a written exam along with a physical exam that included a combat course consisting of tasks such as carrying dummies, hauling hoses and raising ladders.
And while all three ultimately strive to become full-time career fire fighters, their motivations for doing so are different.
For Gerard and Steffan, their paths to a fire-fighting career required some soul searching while working jobs they didn’t enjoy.
“At the beginning of this year I was in Seattle working and was kind of at a dead-end job,” Gerard said. “I sat down and really figured out what I wanted to do and that was to become a firefighter.”
“I went to Western Washington for two years to pursue a teaching degree,” Steffan said. “I was in my second year of that over there and started doing internships for teaching and found that teaching wasn’t my calling, mainly because I was going to be inside all the time. The reason I switched over to fire fighting was that it was more of a spontaneous type of job where you never really know when you’re going to get a call so there’s always that action involved with it.”
For Stanbaugh however, it was more of a personal encounter with fire that hit too close to home: literally.
“What made me want to join the program was my house caught on fire last September,” Stanbaugh said. “I had to help sustain the fire until the Reardan Fire Department got there. And so that kind of sparked my interest in the fire service.”
Gerard and Stanbaugh are still working their way through the four-month fire academy, and their duties are mainly reserved to daily chores and truck checks around the station while they undertake fire-fighting activities and learn emergency medical technique. Steffan, who has already earned his firefighter 1 accreditation, is a full service firefighter for the department.
Gerard, Stanbaugh and Slater, along with the three other residents are assigned to shifts in a “three-platoon system,” where schedules are 24 hours on duty followed by 48 hours off duty. The students however are still able to attend their regularly scheduled college courses while on duty.
No matter how long or demanding the days may be, all three were thrilled to learn they would be joining the fire department and were excited about the future of helping the Cheney Community.
“I was really happy to get the position,” Steffan said. “I was happy to move over from District 10 to the Cheney Fire Department. Cheney has more calls, so from a career perspective I am going to get more experience while also getting to work with guys that have at least 20 years of experience.”
“It was crazy,” Stanbaugh said. “I was pretty nervous about it because of how young I am and how completely fresh I am without much training when it comes to the fire service. So I was pretty excited when I found out.”
“There’s a certain rush you get when that call goes through and you go run to the truck and get your gear on or put the gear onto the truck and go out and start helping somebody,” Gerard added. “The adrenaline rush is just awesome.”