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Washington National Guardsmen makes an impact as volunteer firefighter

A service member is often born with a strong desire to help others. Whether it’s coaching a child’s baseball or soccer team, cleaning up their neighborhood or giving a hand-up during the holidays, public service is frequently a common trait of those serving in the military.

For Sgt. 1st Class Nick Van Kirk, a logistics and decontamination non-commissioned officer with the 10th Civil Support Team, he wanted to give back to his community in a different way.

Growing up in the South Bay community of Olympia, Van Kirk lived down the road from the South Bay Fire Department on Shincke Road. He would see it on his way to South Bay Elementary School.

“I had wanted to be a volunteer firefighter for a while, giving back to the community I grew up in,” said Van Kirk. “Being a full-time active Guard member with the 10th Civil Support Team, I wasn’t sure if I would have that chance.”

He got his chance three years ago, right at the time that the Washington Military Department switched from a traditional five-day workweek to a four-day, 10 hour a day schedule.

“The schedule switch gave me the opportunity to go for it, and the leadership with the Civil Support Team supported it,” said Van Kirk. 

Becoming a firefighter and emergency medical technician takes time and requires the individual to volunteer hours to earn certifications. However being a full-time member of the 10th Civil Support Team, responding at a moment’s notice to support local law enforcement and first responders also requires a lot of time and energy. 

“The training for both firefighting and EMT is time consuming, my command supported everything about me volunteering with South Bay,” said Van Kirk. 

Volunteering with South Bay hasn’t hindered Van Kirk’s work at the CST.

“He probably volunteers 40-50 hours a month with the fire department, he never misses a day of work with us though,” said 1st Sgt. Paul Gautreaux, 10th Civil Support Team. “He is there on Mondays even getting our folks and gear ready for the week ahead.”

This past Fourth of July, Van Kirk put his training, both with the fire department and Guard to good use during a critical situation. That morning, Van Kirk and other members of the South Bay team responded to a call involving a car missing a turn, going down a hill, and hitting two small children who were playing on the shoreline. The call came in to the dispatcher and South Bay firefighters went to work.

“We got to the scene first and the two children were injured pretty bad, so we immediately called for additional EMTs, contacted the hospitals and got everything organized quickly,” said Van Kirk. “Jordan and Ava were rushed to Harborview and are doing great today.”

Van Kirk received praise from his station leadership for his work.

“Nick was our only volunteer who stayed on for the additional shift, he organized the sub units to the incident and help save the lives of two little ones,” said John Clemons, medical service officer, South Bay Fire Department. “He is a real asset to our station.”

His commander, Maj. Wes Watson, also believes it is great for his team at the 10th Civil Support Team. 

“He is like so many in the organization, they are the quiet professionals, volunteering their own time to help others, it’s just the spirit of the Guard,” Watson said.