Grays Harbor County fire academy graduates dozens of volunteers


On a dreary Saturday in Grayland, the community hall parking lot filled with vehicles from across the county, many with a number of commonalities: high-vis stripes, department names, and more than a little color red.

Volunteers from eight departments graduated from the county's fire academy, preparing them to aid their neighbors across Grays Harbor, in a ceremony filled with friends and family.

"Thank you for volunteering," said Chief Deputy State Fire Marshall Howard Scartozzi in an address to the assembled class. "The volunteer fire service is hurting for volunteers."

An outsized class, 25 graduates reached the end, graduating Saturday and returning to their sponsoring departments.

"It'll be you that helps your family members, helps your citizens, help your friends," said McCleary Fire Department Assistant Chief Odd Debakker, one of the instructors. "I don't have any doubt in my mind that you have any other want in your mind but to be there for someone."

South Beach Regional Fire Authority Battalion Chief Darin VanderVeur served as drillmaster for the class, which began in January and reached nearly 300 training hours.

"It takes the courage to stand up and run toward what everyone else is running away from. It takes desire to reach out and achieve what some believe is out of reach," VenderVeur said. "It takes guts to face down the dragon who you know only wants to destroy everything you love. It takes sacrifice. You will give more of yourself than you thought you have."

Students went through the International Fire Services Accreditation Congress-approved curriculum, certifying them to serve as firefighters.

"I really want to commend everyone in this for all their contributions, for all that they've given," said Liam Burke, a volunteer from Fire District 7, who graduated as one of the company commanders. "Both in life and firefighting, everyone has to have a plan. Everything has to be intentional."

Eight departments sent students to the course: District 2, District 7, District 15, Montesano, Quinault, Ocean Shores, Cosmopolis and South Beach itself.

"We had five graduates. I'm proud of all five of then, their accomplishment, their dedication to the fire service and the city of Cosmopolis. I'm looking forward to helping them grow in the fire service," said Cosmopolis Fire Chief Nick Falley. "This is the first graduates we've had since 2021. I'm very proud for our community."

Class instructors also recognized outstanding students, including Ricardo Martinez, class president, and a veteran of the Air Force and Seattle Police Department, who volunteers with Ocean Shores.

"I was a Seattle police officer for 12 years and retired out and moved to Ocean Shores," Martinez said. "I missed servicing the community. I missed my name tag and all. I did a ride along and I loved it."

Martinez aggressively praised the professionalism and excellence of the instructors teaching the course. One of several volunteers from Ocean Shores to graduate, Martinez recommended anyone thinking about volunteering to give it a shot.

"I'd say go ahead. Put the application in and do a ride, see if it's for you," Martinez said. "It's committing yourself to your community."


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