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Learning the art of firefighting

Snohomish Fire recruit Doug Higbee prepares to access the inside fire scenario at a fire training program on Monday, April 16 at the Ray Brown Training Center in Machias. The purpose was to evaluate the inside and outside conditions of a mock hallway caught on fire, simulating what recruits might see in the field later on.

SNOHOMISH — Doug Higbee is Snohomish Fire’s sole member of the inaugural class at the Snohomish County Fire Training Academy, and the dedicated firefighter couldn’t be happier.
The wrecked cars, the training tower and mock roofs represent invaluable practice environments to Higbee. And to a man who loves his work, they are fun, too.
“This is like Disneyland for firefighters,” he said.
But beyond the tools is the true treasure of the academy in Higbee’s eyes: its team of multi-decade
veteran firefighters full of lessons.
The experts are teaching the trade “from helmets to boots.”
Higbee is learning techniques from old hands, such as the subtle ways to maneuver a hose through an obstacle-filled burning building for best deployment.
He’s also learning how to manage the much greater pressure of rescue operations, where he may even be called upon to rescue a colleague.
And though he admitted he didn’t expect his knees to be so sore from all that learning, the Arlington native fits the cliché to a ‘T’: he is living the dream.
This year, Snohomish Fire also awarded him EMS Provider of the Year.
The recruit, like many of his ilk, isn’t new to the firefighting business. Higbee’s had his eye on the career for years.
Higbee said while he was “a lost little duck” early in high school, the minute he had his first ride along with the Arlington Fire Department, he knew where his
future lay.
Arlington Deputy Fire Chief Tom Cooper, who retired last year after 32 years of service, “in the midst of his day, sat me down for almost two hours” Higbee remembered. It was Cooper who arranged that ride along for the young man who showed up unannounced to check out the department.
Higbee knew without a doubt that he wanted to devote himself to service. After studying Fire Science at Everett Community College, Higbee signed on in 2013 as a part-time volunteer firefighter with Fire District 4.
Higbee described his volunteer service as time earning the right to begin the work.
Four years later, a full-time job opened up.
“There are no words to describe the honor and privilege … and excitement and accomplishment,” Higbee said, but one thing came to his lips easily: “There is never a day I don’t want to go to work.”
When asked about other options, like the military, Higbee explained that he knew he wanted to stay nearby to help his neighbors.
Finding a local sweetheart — they met in high school but didn’t date until later — and marrying her last year probably also didn’t hurt.
Higbee said he thought he and his fellow students were there for the same primary reason. “We’re striving for a career of selflessness, to devote 30 years to someone other than ourselves.”
“We’re movers and doers, we struggle sitting behind a desk,” Higbee added. Being involved and able to help someone who really needs it, in a job where every day brings something new, all add to the allure of the work for Higbee.
That “something new” excites him. There is an art and a science to firefighting according to veteran Captain Matt Sorensen and Higbee is eager to learn about the latest scientific developments as well as the art and skill displayed by the veteran instructors.
Students hone their knowledge in construction materials and methods, all manner of lifesaving gear, the chemistry of fire and water, and more.
While he’ll come out of the academy armed with ingrained skills and the latest knowledge in fire science, Higbee is mindful of the intangibles.
“It’s the people I won’t forget … creating that bond, working as a team … we lift each other up,” Higbee said.


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