It takes a special kind of person to become a fire fighter. It’s not only a dangerous career, it’s also physically demanding and requires a huge dedication of time and persistence. Coeur d’Alene Fire Department Captain Bill Deruyter, who has been a fire fighter for 22 years, described it as fast-paced and dirty and hot.
“And it’s the best job in the world,” Deruyter said. “Being a fire fighter is the most rewarding job out there. Every day is different and you make a difference in people’s lives. You train constantly, meet great people, serve a as a role model for children, enjoy working closely with coworkers and are given many educational opportunities.”
Deruyter said he shakes his head sometimes when he thinks about where his career path almost led him. He wishes he could say he always dreamed of becoming a firefighter. Instead, he actually dreamed of becoming a draftsman and was taking classes at a community college in western Washington working toward a degree in drafting.
“One day, my instructor was late to class because he was a volunteer firefighter,” Deruyter said. “A light bulb went off and I suddenly realized I could not sit at a draft table eight to 10 hours a day for the rest of my life.”
But like many others, his journey to becoming a fire fighter wasn’t easy. Deruyter was 19 years old when he became a volunteer, testing for six years before he was hired by the Hayden Fire Department in 1996. He joined the Coeur d’Alene Fire Department in 2004 and said he plans to retire there.
Deruyter’s path isn’t uncommon. Most fire fighters serve as volunteers for years before earning a paid position. Local departments undergo a testing process that includes a written test, physical agility test and an oral presentation before a board. Only those who place at the top of the written test, usually only the top 10 percent, move on to the next element. Even after successful completion of the testing process, applicants aren’t automatically hired. Instead, they enter a pool that can be tapped when positions open up.
Jobs are in high demand. According to the Idaho Department of Labor, fire fighter positions in North Idaho alone are expected to increase 26 percent by 2018. The process for getting hired is highly competitive though, so having a certification and knowledge in the field gives prospective fire fighters an advantage over other applicants, Deruyter said.
From that need, the Fire Fighter I Academy was developed. The academy is a partnership between the North Idaho College Workforce Training Center and the Coeur d’Alene Fire Department, Northern Lakes Fire Protection District and Kootenai County Fire and Rescue. It began a year ago produced fire fighters who now hold certifications through the International Fire Service Accreditation Congress (IFSAC).
Most training takes place at the Coeur d’Alene Fire Station training tower off of Kathleen in Coeur d’Alene, but training may expand to the new Kootenai County Fire and Rescue tower in Post Falls as Kootenai County Fire and Rescue plans to train their new volunteer fire fighters through the NIC Fire Fighter Academy.
Led by Deruyter and taught by local fire fighters, the academy offers hands-on training in safety and health, personal protective equipment, rescue and extrication, ventilation, fire detection, CPR, protecting fire scene evidence and hazardous materials. In an industry with very competitive hiring processes, the academy prepares new students as well as current professionals (both volunteer and paid fire fighters) for IFSAC certification that will give them an advantage over those without certifications.
“The certification is a prerequisite for employment with many departments,” Deruyter said. “The certification enhances an applicant’s resume. It shows initiative and the desire to actually do the job of being a fire fighter. The application process is highly competitive—the more an applicant can do to prepare themselves for the position, the better.”
The next NIC Fire Fighter Academy starts Jan. 24, 2012. The program has limited enrollment and applications are now being accepted.
A free information session will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17 detailing the program requirements and application process. Fire fighters from all three local fire districts will be in attendance to answer questions about training, certification and becoming a volunteer or paid fire fighter.
For more information, visit www.nic.edu/wtc or call (208) 769-3333.
(Top) Coeur d’Alene Fire Department Captain Bill Deruyter. (Above) Instructors and members of the 2011 class of fire fighters from the North Idaho College Fire Fighter Academy.