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Program housing responders next to fire station speeds up response times

Three residents and one shift worker living rent-free in a new building next to the fire station means they can get to calls faster, and creates an incentive for more volunteers

By Russell Hixson
Skagit Valley Herald

SWINOMISH INDIAN TRIBAL COMMUNITY, Wash. — Five minutes may not seem like much, but when you’re an emergency medical technician and a volunteer firefighter, it’s everything.

Five minutes, if you are having a cardiac arrest, is life and death,” said Fire District 13 Chief Roy Horn.

Thanks to a new sleeper program in which firefighters in the district have a place to stay at the district headquarters, response times are speeding up. Since the program began in December, the time it takes from getting a call to heading out the door has dropped from five minutes to one minute.

It hasn’t been easy; Horn said it’s taken three years to get the project up and running.

The new building, located next to the fire station on Snee-Oosh Road on the Swinomish Reservation, houses three residents and one shifter.

On a Friday in January, volunteers firefighters Michael Willup, 23, and Eric Farrane, 40, milled about the kitchen.

Farrane works full-time as an electrician but volunteers for two 24-hour shifts each month. Being able to sleep near the station is far more convenient than waiting for calls at his home in Anacortes.

Willup lives in the sleeper unit, where in exchange for working shifts he gets free rent, a small salary and invaluable experience.

Now that the response times are quicker,Willup can arrive at county scenes quicker than larger city departments, giving him valuable experience with patients. He plans to one day become a career paramedic.

Willup said that the unit also solidifies how many people are responding to a scene since they can be present at the station rather than leaving from their homes.

In addition to improving response times, Horn said he hopes the program will help attract more volunteer firefighters.

This is a common goal of fire departments in the county and across the country that rely on volunteers but have seen declining volunteer numbers.

Horn said the department is always looking for more volunteers and encouraged anyone interested in being a part of the sleeper program to apply.

Frank Varga / Skagit Valley Herald Volunteer firefighter Mike Willup works at his computer in his bedroom in the Fire District 13 sleeper unit on Snee-Oosh Road.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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