Joshua Dillen
The Baker City Herald

A new year brings new faces at the Baker City Fire Department.

Today marks the completion of two weeks of training for three new firefighter/paramedics the city was able to hire after receiving a three-year federal grant.

The new firefighters began their training Jan. 8, which is also the day that Fire Chief Tom Wills returned from a medical leave of absence.

The city accepted the grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in October. The grant will pay $436,000 over the three years, while the city will spend $285,000.

“I am pleasantly satisfied with their experience level,” Wills said about the three new firefighters — Cameron Kiyokawa, Brian Johnson and Steven Donaldson.

“For us (it’s) a huge benefit because the learning curve for them is not going to be as steep as somebody who does not bring with them that experience,” said Wills, who was on leave for six months.

Each of the three new firefighters has completed more than 150 hours of required fire training and all have their basic EMT certifications.

Wills said their experience will benefit Baker City residents and much of the county where city ambulances also respond to emergency calls.

Kiyokawa, who is 27 and from Parkdale, near Hood River, has 11 years of experience as a firefighter. He started in a student firefighter program at age 16.

“You kind of shadowed in the fire service,” he said. “Once you’re 18, you get qualified as a firefighter.”

Kiyokawa became an EMT right after high school and then worked several seasons as a wildland firefighter.

“My goal was to be a career firefighter so I found this job posting,” he said. “I feel real fortunate to be here and to serve the community.”

Johnson, 27, from Clackamas, started working on an ambulance and as a wildland firefighter three years ago. He quickly realized he had a passion for the work and pursued getting his basic EMT certification.

“The more into it I got, the more I loved it,” he said.

Kiyokawa and Johnson have both been volunteer firefighters and are happy to have a paid position.

Donaldson, at 19, is the youngest of the city’s new firefighter/paramedics.

He’s from Zillah, Washington, near Yakima, and he said it’s awesome to land a job as a paid firefighter so soon out of school.

His interest in becoming a firefighter/paramedic began in high school when he went on a few ride-alongs with the local fire department.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do but after I did a few ride-alongs, I decided it was something I’d be interested in doing,” Donaldson said.

After high school he was hired as a resident firefighter — which is a type of intern position — for Benton County, Washington, where he went through firefighter training.

The three new firefighters, along with three others who were hired last year to fill vacancies, have been undergoing training the past two weeks that includes EMS training, extrication from cars and live fire training.

Wills said that due to increasing call volumes over the years — particularly instances when the fire department has two or three calls at the same time — it was becoming increasingly probable that the fire department would not have the staff available to respond. That could have led to unnecessary loss of life simply because the department did not have enough personnel.

“We’ve been lucky,” Battalion Chief David Blair said. “We’ve just gotten by on several occasions.”

See more in the Jan. 19, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.