John McKenzie. (Clallam County Fire District 3)

John McKenzie. (Clallam County Fire District 3)

Sequim to bring back fire, safety inspections

Routine visits out of rotation for almost a year

SEQUIM — Clallam County Fire District 3 and the City of Sequim are partnering to bring fire and life safety inspections to the area after filling a fire code technician vacancy this month.

John McKenzie, the district’s current volunteer coordinator, was hired to reestablish fire and life safety inspections in commercial and multifamily structures in the Sequim area.

McKenzie is contracted to start May 1 at about 26 hours per week with costs split between the city and fire department.

Chris Lovering will start a part-time, 20-hour volunteer coordinator position the same day.

Both are active volunteer firefighters.

Fire Chief Justin Grider said he is excited to bring the fire code technician position back because it’s been vacant for about a year since former technician Mike Mingee resigned to become a fire commissioner.

“To have someone dedicated to (inspections) is fantastic in my mind,” Grider said. “Their work is definitely felt in ways we don’t see.”

Mingee said the fire code technician is part of the fire district’s Community Risk Reduction program.

“The idea is to keep a business in business (and make sure) these public spaces are within code and safe,” he said. “It’s two fold — protect the public and keep businesses viable.”

McKenzie, a longtime volunteer firefighter in Diamond Point with his wife, said switching roles was a difficult decision to make.

“I love doing the volunteer coordination; we made changes for more people to serve,” McKenzie said.

“On the other side, I do love the community risk reduction aspect of this new job; helping prevent and mitigate risks.

“It gives me a larger palette to serve the community.”

McKenzie was selected the district’s volunteer firefighter of the year in 2019 and previously served as a volunteer from 1972-1982 in Pennsylvania and as a fire protection specialist for a 700-bed hospital.

He also inspects fires for the local district, investigating about 30 per year, he estimated.

McKenzie said a fire code technician’s process is non-punitive and meant to help businesses and agencies look at how to prevent and mitigate incidents, such as helping to create a smoke detector plan.

With no inspections for about a year, he said, “we certainly have to catch up and rebuild a culture of safety among our business owners — that’s really my job.

“In general with (Community Risk Reduction) and this job, we are saving lives before the fire and tones come.”

A restaurant had a kitchen fire a few weeks ago, McKenzie said, and with input from the Community Risk Reduction team, it will be mitigated if it happens again.

He said his position can help businesses and agencies with all types of safety measures, such as fall risks.

McKenzie said he will also look to help the fire district continue to create a pre-plan program for structures, to know entry and exit points, such as a group home, in case there is a 9-1-1 call.

Joel Dressel, the city of Sequim’s building official and fire marshal, said he administers and enforces Washington’s fire code, and it’s been noticeable not having a fire code technician position as Sequim has largely gone without routine inspections, except when requested or where potential violations have occurred.

“(The position) is a great asset to the city of Sequim and the Sequim community,” he said.

Dressel added that inspections “are a critical part of fire prevention that can protect property owners, businesses, their occupants and (firefighters).”

McKenzie will also participate in discussions about new larger development (commercial, subdivisions, etc.) in the city about code compliance, Dressel said.

A proposal to make McKenzie’s position full time was on the table, including Port Angeles Fire Department and the city of Port Angeles, but Clallam County Fire Department 3 commissioners said earlier this month Port Angeles leaders may revisit the proposal at a later time.

Fire staff estimate larger, higher-risk businesses and facilities are typically inspected once a year by a fire code technician, while common retail spaces could be visited upwards of every three years.

New firefighters

Starting the week of April 22, the fire district will start three new firefighters into the regular rotation after they graduated from the fire academy. They include: Marquita Espinoza, firefighter/paramedic; Ryan Hueter, firefighter/emergency medical technician and William Pyle, firefighter/paramedic.

Grider said with the three new firefighters, District 3 has 46 firefighters including three Battalion Chiefs, with 14-15 people on staff per shift.

He anticipates onboarding another four firefighters (three EMTs and one paramedic) on May 1. They’ll join the regular rotation sometime in the summer.

For more information about Clallam County Fire District 3, visit ccfd3.org.

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