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Mentor’s new journey: North Bend’s Todd Reynolds ends fire career, readies for international church mission
Among the mementoes waiting to be packed, the coat stood out.
The heavy bunker jacket was special, signed by dozens of firefighters and volunteers, all wishing Todd Reynolds the best in his next adventure.
With two days until retirement, Reynolds, 56, Snoqualmie Fire Department’s assistant chief and training officer, was boxing up the memories from his second fire career.
It was April 2007 when Reynolds arrived in Snoqualmie from arid Pendleton, Ore. He had recently retired after 28 years as a fire captain with that city of 16,000 people. But Reynolds wasn’t quite ready for the retired life.
“I just wanted to do something a little different,” he said. When his church pastor’s family found him a more challenging job in a new place, right here in Snoqualmie, Reynolds pondered the big change.
“I don’t know if I have the horsepower for that job,” he wondered.
But his Pendleton chief encouraged him to apply, and Reynolds beat out the other applicant.
Snoqualmie was an adjustment at first.
In the Pacific Northwest, “all this rain gets me down. But when it’s sunshiny out...!” he grins. He lives below Mount Si, and loves the encounters with bears, cougars and elk, the kind of wildlife he never saw in Pendleton—”it doesn’t get better than that!”
Reynolds and his wife Kate have a grown son and three adopted daughters.
In August, he and Kate are going on a mission trip to the Ukraine through their Church of the Nazarene in Snoqualmie, to build missionary homes and work with an orphanage. The Ukraine has been an open field for missionaries for a while, and Reynolds is learning some of the language with help from mission leaders. He’s made one similar trip in his life, to Tijuana, Mexico.
The trip looks to be life-changing, and “my wife and I are both really excited.”
Reynolds chose his career as a 17-year-old. Leaving the Pendleton dentist’s office with his mother, he noticed the fire substation next door.
“I asked my mom, ‘What do they do there?’ She said they work one day, get two days off. I said, ‘That’s what I want to do!’”
Visiting his sister in Salem, Ore., Reynolds was one of the last applicants to get into the firefighting program at the local community college.
He got a ‘sleeper’ position at a fire station in Monmouth, Ore., and learned to be a firefighter, going on calls and taking classes, graduating in 1977. He got his first real job in Pendleton two years after applying and waiting on their list.
As assistant chief and trainer, Reynolds is a teacher, mentor, surrogate dad and confidante.
When a volunteer needs to chat, “we’ll come in, close the door and talk about families, talk about ‘stuff.’ It’s kind of hard to put into words.”
He makes the schedule for the career firefighters, volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians, or EMTs.
Volunteers supplement the paid force, working a minimum of two nights every month. Some volunteers leave after a few years. Others stay for years; a number have been serving their Snoqualmie neighbors for a decade.
Volunteer firefighting is getting more challenging, with stringent training programs and time commitments. And yet Reynolds has managed to grow the program in Snoqualmie. He credits the people who are coming in: “It helps when you have good material.”
Recruits in Snoqualmie often come from good jobs and high-tech careers.
“A lot of them are looking for something to do with their lives that gives back to the community, getting away from a desk and being committed.”
In Pendleton, “you take a warm body, anybody who signs up. Here, it’s not that way. We pick and choose.”
Recruits go through an interview, testing on agility and knowledge, and must commit to 12 weeks of training and study, amounting to several days a week, to become an emergency medical technician volunteer. After that, they spend six months serving on the city’s medical aid car, two nights and 10 hours per week. After that, they’re evaluated, and can become volunteer firefighters, going through another series of training on nights and weekends. At the end, they are firefighters, and receive a modest stipend for their troubles. The department saves a small chunk of the pay for a Christmas bonus.
“We’re pretty picky about who we get in here,” says Reynolds. “They’ve got to be able to do the job and make a commitment.”
Many new volunteers want to become professional firefighters.
“Everybody has a chance if they work hard at it,” says Reynolds. “Once in a while, we get somebody, and we have to tell them, ‘You might have to think about doing something else.’ We do that with tact.”
Firefighting is a career where there are always more applicants than there are jobs—Reynolds estimates the ratio at 50 to one.
“You’ve got to be good and you’ve got to be at the right place at the right time,” just like he was. “We tell our guys to apply everywhere—don’t just put your eggs in one basket,” he says. He expects them to be neat, clean, eager and ready for everything.
“I tell them, never let an officer roll a hose,” he said. “If you see anybody wiping down a rig who’s over you in seniority, you’d better take that chamois away and start wiping it yourself. Show appreciation and eagerness in everything you do.”
The typical citizen won’t know who’s a volunteer and who’s a full-timer on the Snoqualmie fire force.
“It doesn’t say volunteer on their shirts,” says Reynolds. “You wouldn’t know—and we’re proud of that.”
For firefighters, respect is a two-way street. New volunteers must earn it.
“We tell these guys, if you want respect from these guys, you’ve got to work hard and earn it. And they do.”
He’s proud of the lifesaving moments that his teammates have made, particularly the water rescues made by firefighters Darby Summers and Brian Busby in recent years.
A lieutenant will step into Reynold’s position on an interim basis.
As his signed coat shows, Reynolds have been given a warm send-off.
“The career guys and volunteers have been unbelievable,” he says.
He’ll miss the connections he’s made here.
“You have a tie to these guys—you know about their families, how the football game went, where their kids are going. All of a sudden, you’re not there anymore.”
“When they say, come on in and have coffee with us, that makes you feel good,” Reynolds said.