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As Kent grows, fire department has adapted along with community

KENT, Wash. -- As the population in the city of Kent continues to explode, the growth plays a significant role on the effects and demand for public safety.

Serving a city like Kent certainly has it’s unique challenges -- and the department has survived and thrived by adapting and changing, right along with that growth.

As flames engulfed a commercial warehouse in Kent late September, firefighters around the south sound were prepared.

"It is a welding shop, I don’t know what exploded but you do have compressed gas cylinders in there, Captain Keith Kepler told crews on scene in an interview September 20th.

Firefighters took a somewhat ‘ariel approach’ high atop a tiller ladder truck.

That was a tactical decision. And according to the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority--an intentional one.

A 67-foot tiller ladder truck is one of the many resources the department has added over the years to adapt to the city's growth.

Because of the rail lines, because of the airport--an international airport--because of the highways we have available and the ports that are close to us, Kent is a very, very popular area for manufacturing,” described Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority Captain Kyle Ohashi.

Protecting a city with the fourth largest warehousing district in the country requires the right resources.

Like two 67’ foot longer tiller trucks, placed at strategic stations around Kent.

“We have to have (those) because of large tall buildings we have and the maneuverability of those tall ladder trucks,” said Ohashi.

It’s one of many resources the department utilizes to serve a city that’s growing at such a booming rate.

“It’s important to us to evolve with the community and to grow with the community and in order to do that, we have to be in touch,” said Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority Chief Matthew Morris.

Morris says listening to residents helps them identify specific and unique needs as the community has grown. Constantly coming up with new ideas to be effective and efficient.

“A great example of that is the addition of the FD Cares unit a few years ago,” said Morris.

The roaming unit consisting of both a firefighter and a nurse.

“Basically where the firefighters go in and get out in as fast as they can… We go in we take our time, we figure out what’s going on,” said Cassie Sheel, a nurse with the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority.

Dispatched by 911, the FD Cares unit is essentially a roaming service that responds to anywhere from 5 to 18 calls a day.

“With me doing it and taking time, they are not only freed up to answer emergent calls, but we can hopefully find a solution to the problem instead of continually having the person call over and over again for the same reason,” said Sheel.

The department says it’s designed that way. To keep crews ready and available for true emergencies.

Then there’s the behemoth affectionately referred to as the “mother ship”.

A tractor-drawn haz-mat trailer—a resource added in 2010 that’s designed to respond to just about anything.

“We’ve got our suits of various types. Level A suits, some ‘Level B’ suits,” described Captain Bob Kelley, who design the $381,000 dollar rig.

“We evolved from a beverage truck that gave us a very small amount of space and limited access to this type of vehicle,” said Kelley, who says it’s designed similar to a NASCAR hauler.

On board is equipment for any incident the team may encounter.

The hazardous material team is composed of 6-7 trained technicians—also firefighters that have to be ready for all emergencies, even basic house calls.

And with a diverse population, speaking hundreds of languages, just communicating can be a challenge.

Or an “opportunity” as the Chief sees it.

“The great thing about diversity in a community or diversity in an organization – that’s the breeding ground for innovation,” said Morris. “Innovation comes from new ideas. And new ideas come from people with different perspectives and different backgrounds.

Which why the department is actively looking for more women and minority firefighters -- widening the diversity within their own department and allowing them to communicate more effectively with the community around them.