Volunteerism Works, A Front Porch Chat with Charlie Krimmert

By March Twisdale

If you’re like me, you prefer the dynamism of learning to the stagnancy of knowing. And so, with a chuckle and a shake of my head, I readily admit to two things: I came to Charlie Krimmert’s front porch knowing very little about Vashon Island Fire and Rescue, and I left with a burgeoning appreciation for our island’s volunteer firefighters as an honorable and necessary community resource.

Right off the bat, when I asked Charlie (a long-time volunteer firefighter and our recent Fire Chief) about our “Fire Department,” he corrected me. “We don’t have a Fire Department—departments are created by cities. Vashon Island, being unincorporated King County, has a Fire District.” Light bulbs began to pop in my head, followed by a flurry of questions as I realized just how “community derived, directed, and dependent” our Fire District must be. 

I asked: “If you could wave a magic wand over the island, what would you have people do differently?” Charlie didn’t hesitate: “First, I wish islanders would pay far more attention to VIFR, and second, they need to prepare to survive on their own.” My eyebrows rose: “On our own?”

“Yes,” he said, “On any given day during my tenure as Chief, we were staffed to respond to 2.5 emergencies at once. If you were call number 6, it would be a while before we could get to you. And, during a large-scale emergency, with dozens or hundreds of injuries, you could be on your own for days. Even weeks, depending.”

We, of course, cannot be expected to pay attention to all things vital, despite our best intentions. This is why we elect others to attend to the finer details, delegation being the unavoidable sibling of specialized work. But, when not all goes smoothly, what are we to do? Over the last twenty years (the rough length of my residence here), islanders have lived through many systemic ups and downs. In most cases, the public “technically” has had ample opportunity to pay attention, speak up, and engage, but few do. Which begged my next question: “Who’s paying attention?” When I candidly answered that question with a clear, “Not me!” Charlie nodded, unsurprised.

As Charlie spoke, VashonBePrepared took on a whole new level of relevance, as did my lackluster involvement with our local NERO (Neighborhood Emergency Response Organization). Could I be doing more? Yes! 

Which brings us to volunteerism. How valuable, reliable, capable, and skilled are our volunteer VIF&R (Vashon Island Fire & Rescue) members? While Vashon Island currently has some paid firefighters, our community previously met fires and myriad other emergencies with an all-volunteer force. As it turns out, this is not unusual. Charlie grew up with a father who worked his way through all firehouse ranks (firefighter, Lieutenant, Captain, Assistant Chief, and Chief). A lifetime of service and life-saving responsibility to his community…and always as a volunteer. I wonder if others, like me, tend to assume volunteerism is an occasional activity entered into with a casual level of commitment? I am fascinated to learn this is far from the truth. 

VIF&R board member Candy McCullough also spoke with me about her experiences as a volunteer fire fighter in Colorado many years ago. “We had to do it all,” she said, “from fixing the engines, to sourcing equipment to resolving any number of issues that could come up on a call. Our all-volunteer force showed up, trained hard and got the job done.” 

All of which makes sense, given the infrequent and unpredictable nature of emergencies. All emergency services seek to balance on the fine edge of “enough.” The concept of “feast or famine” serves well to highlight this challenge, with the most preferred solution being a blend of “adequate staffing” along with a surplus of trained individuals who are “on call.” It’s a complex issue requiring finesse, coordination, communication and a level of commitment that one cannot help but admire.

“We were like a family,” Candy said, remembering how her fellow volunteer fire fighters helped her find her dog, stranded in the middle of a massive snow storm rolling out of the Colorado Rockies. A vivid example of our human desire to be of aid to one another – whether paid or choosing to give freely of one’s time and energy. 

By March Twisdale, Editorial Team Member

(Editorial Note: In 2019, I interviewed almost all Water Operators serving Vashon and Maury Islanders for my radio show, Focus On! All of them said I was the first, or one of the very few, who had ever asked to tour their facilities and learn. This shocked me, and then – as I looked with awe upon the sophisticated yet simple ways in which we are provided with fresh, clean drinking water – I grew sad. What a missed opportunity for our many thousands of island residents! And now, as I dip a toe into the deep pool of Fire Fighting history, culture and community, I am thrilled to be able to share what I learn with all of you. Look for future articles in our island’s only Community Owned Newspaper, The Vashon Loop.)

August 28, 2022

About Author

march March Twisdale has called Vashon Island home for nearly twenty years. A lifelong advocate of independent thought, March believes there are as many right choices as there are people in the world. She looks forward to bringing inspiring content to Vashon Loop readers, as she's done for eight years with her radio show - Prose, Poetry & Purpose. Find her on by searching "Our Thoughts Matter."