Aaron Rux says he must have had just about every kind of job imaginable. He sold insurance and commodities. He worked as a heavy-equipment worker. He worked at a lumber mill. Sometimes, he traveled. Sometimes, he made a lot of money. Sometimes, he didn’t.
But he was just never happy. He always hated his jobs.
“Just nothing made me satisfied,” Aaron says.
Then, seven years ago, his brother Corey Rux — who also happens to be the fire chief now — kept bugging him to become a volunteer firefighter with the Montesano Fire Department. Aaron was hooked. It wasn’t the adrenaline rush of going to car accidents or responding to fires, he says, it was just finding a niche that made him happy, knowing that he was able to help people. He has gone through the training to be a paramedic and is hoping to find a new career as a firefighter — just like his brother.
“Personally, I try to help people out with pretty mundane stuff — replace smoke detectors or go upstairs to see what kind of alarm is going off,” Aaron says. “Just interacting with people. I really enjoy that part of it a lot.”
Now, Chief Rux is on a quest to find more people to join the fire department. With just a couple dozen people enlisted as volunteers, the numbers are the lowest they’ve been in years.
And the time is ripe for new blood to volunteer. Rux is launching a volunteer-enlistment campaign under the community challenge: “Can you fill these boots?”
“Every day, Montesano Fire Department emergency responders answer the call of our families, friends and neighbors who are in need of assistance,” Rux says. “From car accidents to heart attacks, from house fires to technical rescues, emergency responders are there to protect our lives and property. Emergency responders are a special type of people, with many different reasons for answering the call of duty. Some like the challenges and the adrenaline rush, while others like to sharpen their emergency skills and techniques. Every one of them volunteers their time to help someone in need.”
With just seven full-time staff members at the fire department, Rux says the department is pretty dependent on volunteers. In fact, most departments around the East County area depend on dedicated volunteers to keep things going.
“We rely significantly on our volunteers to respond from home or wherever they’re at and supplement our career guys on any and all emergency scenes that we respond to,” Rux said. “…The city allows us to have a maximum capacity of 35. There’s been times when we haven’t been able to accept new volunteers. But, now we’re able to open it up and accept more.”
Rux says the department is looking for a special kind of person, who cares about the community and is willing to dedicate time to helping others.
“Today’s emergency responders do far more than put out fires or bandage wounds,” Rux says. “Emergency responders are the first line of defense in natural and man-made disasters. They respond to vehicle accidents, hazardous materials incidents, specialized rescue situations and a vast array of emergency medical incidents.”
Beka Gardner is the vice president of the Montesano Volunteer Firefighter Association and holds a full-time job as a skin therapist at Trendz Salon & Day Spa in Montesano.
“Most people don’t realize what we do,” Gardner says. “It’s a pretty good feeling to go out and help the community. Plus, it’s all the relationships you don’t hear about. This is like a second family to me.”
Gardner says she graduated from Montesano High School and was looking for something else to fill her time.
She carries a pager with her “that sometimes never goes off and sometimes it just doesn’t stop.”
Gardner says there’s “definitely a time commitment involved,” especially when training’s involved.
All volunteers will be expected to complete classes necessary to become an emergency medical technician. But Chief Rux points out that the fire department sponsors volunteers through the county’s training program. The training lasts about four months at about 180 hours of training with classes two to three times a week.
“You have to get back into the studying habits but when you’re doing something you enjoy it’s really not school,” Gardner points out.
You must not only pass the class, but also pass a national registry certification put on by the state Department of Health.
An EMT is the middle level on the experience level for those helping in medical emergencies — with emergency medical responders at the low end and paramedics at the high end. Rux says that Montesano needs EMTs because that’s the minimum requirement needed to handle medical transports to hospitals.
The department also sends volunteers through the fire academy.
“You can drop X amount of dollars and go through a fire science program or you can go this route and have it all paid for you,” adds Aaron Rux. “It’s a win for both sides. I get the knowledge that will help me progress through a career yet the city benefits from the extra manpower. I think it’s great. I spent a lot of time down here. I wish I would have done it when I was 20. If I only knew then that’s what I wanted to do.”
To be a volunteer for Montesano, you must be 18 years old, have a valid driver’s license and must pass a background check and toxicology screening.
“We have several volunteers that turn this into a career and we embrace that,” Chief Rux said. “And we have officers here that take the time to develop volunteers and develop those skill sets and the knowledge. I was a volunteer here and went through every rank here, and it started with having mentors here that were paramedics and I went through EMT class and I put myself through paramedic school and I was able to get hired here.”
At one point, Rux said he and both of his brothers were at the fire hall.
Dan Wisdom says he’s spent at least 35 years as a volunteer for Montesano. Add in his dad, brothers and family, “and we’ve put in some 100-plus years volunteering.”
“My dad was here and eventually we all got on the department,” Wisdom says. “There’s been a lot of changes. It used to be a social place and it’s still a social place, but it’s a lot more involved with the schooling. When I first started, we didn’t have all the stuff we have now. There’s a lot more requirements, a lot more training.”
Wisdom says that patience is a pretty big virtue to have in volunteering.
“You also need to listen to people and go along with what people are doing to help you to learn a lesson,” Wisdom said. “It’s a good experience. It’s something you’ll never forget in your lifetime.”
To volunteer, swing by the fire hall at 310 E. Pioneer in Montesano, call (360) 249-4851 or email the chief at firstname.lastname@example.org.