Firefighters host educational conference

The birth of the Kitsap Conference Center provided the opportunity for Bremerton firefighters to host a statewide conference for the first time in more than 40 years this week.

The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF)/Washington State Council of Fire Fighters (WSCF) Educational Seminar took place Monday through Thursday, gathering more than 300 firefighters from across the state in as many as four breakout sessions at a time.

“Since we haven’t hosted one since ‘65, it’s really neat to bring people here,” said Todd Thorsen, president of the Bremerton Firefighters’ Local 437. “People have been able to enjoy a nice view and sunny days.”

The conference teaches new union leaders how to negotiate and “educates the union body on how to do different things,” Thorsen said. “Lawyers come in and teach how to have a good relationship with fire commissioners ... and those higher up. Those getting toward retirement ... (learn) the things you need to look for.”

Thorsen said the conference filled all 110 rooms at the Hampton Inn and Suites and 60 more elsewhere in Bremerton, with a conference such as this bringing an average of $300,000 to $400,000 into local economies, according to WSCF. The state council also hosts a spring seminar and annual convention each year and Thorsen said the events are rotated between cities east and west of the Cascades to ease travel costs for the firefighters.

Representatives from the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and WSCF Burn Foundation were on hand to talk about the charitable efforts of local firefighters.

“(IAFF) was MDA’s first corporate sponsor. This is their 52nd year,” said Anna Burrows, director for the MDA Tacoma district. “The main sponsorship is the Fill the Boot street-side (fund-raiser). We’re just here to meet and greet and thank (firefighters) for their participation throughout the year. They do so much for us in their communities.”

Burrows explained that Fill the Boot funds remain in the communities where local firefighters raise funds. Last year, Bremerton’s 53 firefighters raised a total of $3,080 for MDA.

The WSCF Burn Foundation, meanwhile, pays for burn research, sends children to summer camps, builds fire safety houses for demonstrations and more, said Rod Heivilin, executive director of the foundation.

Heivilin, a Shoreline resident who served as a firefighter for 30 years before retiring in 2002, has been pleasantly surprised with Bremerton and the conference center.

“I am incredibly impressed with this facility,” he said. “The staff are just exemplary, the friendliest and most helpful people I’ve come across.”

A pair of Spokane firefighters who had not been to Bremerton in a decade also have enjoyed their time in the city this week.

“The facility is great. The event itself is very educational, informative and well put-together,” said Thad Frater. “The weather’s been fantastic.”

His fellow Eastern Washington firefighter, Greg Borg, agreed.

“The hotel is very nice,” Borg said. “It’s a really nice spot. (Bremerton) has changed a lot. I’m impressed with how the downtown has grown.”

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