Marysville Fire Department recruit Katie Hereth eyes a cone, marking the finish line, as she hauls a 5-inch, 140-pound line 200 feet in Snohomish County’s first fire training academy obstacle course at the SouthCounty Snohomish Fire & Rescue training grounds Monday in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Marysville Fire Department recruit Katie Hereth eyes a cone, marking the finish line, as she hauls a 5-inch, 140-pound line 200 feet in Snohomish County’s first fire training academy obstacle course at the SouthCounty Snohomish Fire & Rescue training grounds Monday in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

The hoses are heavy at the new firefighter training academy

After years of learning the basics in North Bend, now recruits can practice closer to home.

EVERETT — Almost all of the recruits in Snohomish County’s first fire academy have suited up before.

But for Chau Nguyen, 33, a former furniture delivery truck driver, it was the first time he’d put on the hefty fire-resistant gear, slung the red 5-inch hose line over his shoulder and unraveled it by hauling it across wet asphalt. Like the other recruits, he seemed to run in slow motion as he neared 200 feet from the back of the engine, when friction made the hose seem heavier than it felt seconds earlier.

“You can’t really stop, and that’s kind of the heart of what this process is,” Nguyen said. “Can’t ever stop. You’ve got to fight through and keep going, because if you quit, it takes a lot of work to get back at it.”

This is the second week for Nguyen and his 26 classmates in the new training academy on the South County Snohomish Fire & Rescue grounds.

For years local firefighters have learned the basics in North Bend, with 30-plus other recruits from around the state. Seats in those classes are in high demand. So in the past year a group of local fire chiefs decided to create an academy that caters to the needs of the local departments, and one that can keep up with the county’s growing population.

The cost, they found, would be about the same as sending a class to North Bend. It cuts down on post-academy training, and pushes different departments to work together. Instructors came from a pool of about 80 experienced firefighters around the county.

Andy Bronson / The Herald                                His face mask covered and hoses running under and over each other, Snohomish County Fire district 7 recruit Johnson Brooks tries to follow the correct fire hose up a stairwell during Snohomish County’s first fire training academy at the South County Snohomish Fire Rescue training ground training grounds Monday in Everett.

Andy Bronson / The Herald His face mask covered and hoses running under and over each other, Snohomish County Fire district 7 recruit Johnson Brooks tries to follow the correct fire hose up a stairwell during Snohomish County’s first fire training academy at the South County Snohomish Fire Rescue training ground training grounds Monday in Everett.

“The biggest benefit to the recruits is that they get to go home every night,” said Scott Goodale, assistant chief of South Snohomish County Fire & Rescue. “They don’t have to spend 14 weeks away from their families. … Plus there’s pride in being local.”

Their first test on a drizzly 40-degree Monday was a time trial, but there was no passing or failing.

One by one, recruits raced through a series of tasks in their bunker gear. First you carry a hose. Then spray a hose. Carry two jugs of pink concentrated firefighting foam in a loop around orange cones. Lift a 100-pound ladder. Climb a ladder. Go blindfolded into a dark building, and grab one of two overlapping hoses. One leads to a dead end, the other upstairs to safety. Learn to follow by sense of touch. Outside, straddle a weight called “The Sled,” and hit it with a sledgehammer 25 or so times, until the weight moves a few feet across a track. Now that you’re out of breath, practice your radio skills. Pretend you just rolled up to a fire, and give a short report to the dispatcher. Hook up an air bottle. Tie the knots in a rope, just like you were taught last week in class.

They were finishing in 10 to 15 minutes. They’ll run the course again in a few months, and try to beat their times.

Many of the recruits have put in years as volunteers. Some were hired full time months ago by a local department.

Doug Higbee, 28, a recruit in Fire District 4, said it took him five years to get here. He waited more than a year after his hire date to start at the academy. On the course Monday, he didn’t have a target time in mind — he just wanted to control his breathing and to finish as fast as possible.

“As you work through the course you obviously become exhausted, which requires you to use your concentration, hand skills and techniques to help you,” Higbee said. “Each area is supposed to be challenging on purpose, in its own way.”

The idea is to turn awkward movements — climbing down a ladder, walking on stairs with a load, lifting a 200-pound body off the ground — into something bordering on routine, to be ready when the pressure is on for real. Already the recruits are learning to prepare for the brutal toll this job takes on the human body, said Melissa Uftring, a fitness coach who leads gym classes for the recruits.

“A lot of these guys will retire broken, similar to football players,” Uftring said. “But if they get strong, they’re less likely to get injured.”

The inaugural class drew new hires along the I-5 corridor: one from Arlington; five from Everett; four from Lake Stevens; three from Marysville; one from the city of Snohomish; six from Monroe; and seven from the new fire authority in southwest Snohomish County.

Katie Hereth, 27, is a former volunteer in Silvana who was hired in November in Marysville. She said the sledgehammer obstacle — the final physical task — was the most draining. It was a new test for her.

“Most of it is stuff I’ve done before,” she said. “It’s just getting through it. Pushing hard — which (goes for) anything in the fire service. You’re going to be tired, but you just have to push through it and get it done.”

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.

Talk to us

More in Local News

A portion of the site of the proposed Lake Stevens Costco at the intersection of Highway 9 (right) and South Lake Stevens Road (below, out of view). (Chuck Taylor / Herald file)
Shovel alert: Groundbreaking on Lake Stevens Costco is near

A land sale in early June cleared the way. The mayor says dirt could be flying as soon as next week.

Taleah Burr (left right), Laurel Harrison, Caitlin Hitchner and Kelsey Jinneman-Fairbanks are four teachers at Challenger Elementary in Everett got Roman numeral '4' tattoos to represent their "Core 4" solidarity the day after their first year teaching in 2014.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Inked: Third-grade teachers tattoo their solidarity IV-ever

Most of their Challenger Elementary students don’t know about the hidden badge of teacher pride.

In Edmonds, ‘small cell’ deployment permit becomes a big deal

The City Council has allowed new cellular equipment under an ordinance that regulates conditions.

Woman killed in hit-and-run south of Everett is identified

Detectives have been searching for the vehicle that struck Katherine Mueller, 31, of Snohomish.

Highway 99 fatal crash victim from Seattle identified

Sarah Cooper was the passenger in the car that reportedly crossed into oncoming traffic in Lynnwood.

The passenger loading ramp is nearing completion at the new Mukilteo ferry terminal. (Andrea Brown / The Herald) Feb. 4, 2021
State ferry fares set to rise for drivers and walk-ons

A state panel proposed a 2.5% hike in each of the next two years to cover the system’s operating costs.

Officers surrounded a Motel 6 near Everett Tuesday morning after a reported rape. A man tried to flee but was subdued and arrested. (Ellen Dennis / The Herald) 20210615
Man arrested after standoff at motel over reported rape

Surrounded by a SWAT team near Everett, the man tried to flee but was subdued with pepper balls.

Arlington-area man arrested in fatal machete attack on uncle

The nephew, 31, claimed self-defense. It was an argument over a wheelbarrow, a sheriff’s deputy wrote.

Jeff Thoreson does a cheer with his second grade class before the start of their kickball game on his last in-person day of school on Thursday, June 17, 2021 in Snohomish, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Snohomish teacher hit the right notes in memorable career

Jeff Thoreson will retire this month after molding minds at Riverview Elementary School for 41 years.

Most Read