Celebrating the work of Washington’s first responders to bring COVID-19 testing to their communities and highlighting best practices based on their experiences.

Ferry/Okanogan Fire Protection District #14

Mario D’Lerma, the EMS Chief at Ferry/Okanogan Fire Protection District #14, known locally as north Ferry County Ambulance, prefers to avoid the spotlight. But the services he and his team provide to the North Ferry County community deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated. 

Ferry/Okanogan Fire Protection District #14 is located in the Okanogan Highlands of Northeast Washington. The District is geographically isolated by high mountain passes, narrow valleys, and many steep drainages. The District covers 322 square miles of rugged, intense terrain, serving a community of 2,000 people (seasonally variable), many of whom live off grid in remote and often inaccessible areas.

Chief D’Lerma and his team face a number of challenges providing fire, EMS, and COVID-19 test distribution services to north Ferry County, but they navigate these challenges with creativity and determination.

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Douglas County Fire District 4

Douglas County Fire District 4’s COVID-19 test distribution program, led by Chief Jim Oatey and Tara Cunningham, DCFD4 Administrator, is a proactive, relentless, community-centric operation. Located just outside of Orondo, DCFD4 is bringing at-home COVID-19 testing to the community through events, partnerships with local businesses and fruit stands, collaborations with local apple packaging plants, and just sheer perseverance. 

We caught up with Chief Oatey and Tara to learn how they’ve used their networks and reputation to promote COVID-19 testing in their community. 

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Douglas County Fire District 5

“As far as challenges go at this point, it’s really just getting the word out. We’re still working on creative ways to get that message delivered more efficiently, but that’s our main focus right now.”

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Douglas Okanogan County Fire District 15

“Helping the community was second nature. We felt like we needed to still be doing something. Then the WA COVID-19 program came up, and we already know how to do it. It was nothing for us to step into this role, because we’ve been in this role for so many years. But the funding [provided by the program] was definitely a huge component. Getting the supplies without a cost – that was huge.”

Tonya Vallance

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Chelan County Fire District 5

“I reached out to the WA COVID-19 Program to say we wanted to do this because there’s not a test pick-up location in Manson. People go through Chelan often, but wouldn’t it be nice to have an option to just come down to the fire station to pick up test kits? There are elevated services in Chelan, but I wanted to have that distribution point in our community.”

Chief Baker

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Sunnyside Fire Department

“For other fire departments considering this program, it’s a great opportunity to open up your communication with your community. Someone who might not usually come up might do so to get a test. And then they can talk to the fire prevention captain and build a relationship. If you’re out there trying to build a relationship with your community, this is a great avenue to do that.”

Chief Haubrich

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Does your Fire Department have a COVID-19 test distribution program that you’d like to highlight? 

WA COVID-19 First Responders Testing Program 

This program is funded by the CDC Health Disparities Grant, and Health Commons Project (HCP) is an implementing partner. We also work with the Washington State Fire Chief’s Association (WSFCA) to connect with the various first responder agencies across the state. Through this program, we provide testing supplies and technical assistance to first responder/EMS agencies to support capacity building and involvement in community paramedicine programming.

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We provide resources and one-to-one technical assistance to help you educate community members on why testing matters and how they can test themselves for COVID-19. Knowing when to isolate, especially when other vulnerable individuals may be involved, is critical to protecting community health.

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The Washington State Department of Health and Heath Commons periodically reviews the contents of to keep information content of as up to date as possible during guidance changes and program expansion. The content of does not necessarily represent the official views of WA State Department of Health.

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