An Update from Skagit: The Newhalem-Diablo Fire Brigade

This year’s effects have undoubtedly been felt in more populated areas like Seattle, but what has been the experience for those in remote locations like Newhalem and Diablo? It might seem surprising, but the Newhalem-Diablo Fire Brigade (the towns’ emergency response team) has been busier than ever implementing safety precautions and responding to visitor needs.  

The Fire Brigade is a mostly volunteer group of first responders that, in addition to their normal duties as painters, maintenance laborers, electricians, etc., also work to protect residents and visitors on the utility’s Skagit Hydroelectric Project and North Cascades National Park. Every day is different, with new calls coming in at any moment, but lately, there have been more changes due to new safety and health concerns amid the pandemic and September wildfires.

“One of the big things for our team is applying more stringent standards when interacting with the public and patients,” said Fire Brigade Chief Cody Watson. “As EMTs, we work under our County Medical Program Director’s medical license. They set the bar very high to ensure our safety in the field. Personal protective equipment requirements have become more stringent than what City Light and the general public have. We suit up in gowns, eye protection, gloves, N-95, etc. That’s all different, but we’re also required to be in closer contact with others and have a greater risk associated with that.”

A surprising influx of visitors has also impacted the team due to the general public’s heightened desire to get out and about. “With everything going on, it seems kind of inverse,” Cody explained. “You’d think that people would stay home, but everyone’s cooped up. They want to get outside, go for drives, and visit the great outdoors, which has also meant that our call volume has increased. The team has done extremely well at taking on additional tasks. Most of it has been responding to motorcycle accidents, and they’ve done very, very well. Out here, we’re so remote that it’s kind of like the Wild West. Our backup is 45 minutes away – at best – if they’re in the station and available by radio. Over the years, we’ve started to interact more with the Park Service and other agencies, so those relationships have increased our efficiency and capacity in everything we do.”

For those looking to escape to the North Cascades and see the beautiful changing colors of the fall, Cody suggests checking the Department of Health and CDC guidelines for the latest information. “I signed up for the Department of Health’s COVID newsletter, and it’s awesome! The person that writes it has an excellent sense of humor, which I appreciate. It’s factual and to the point – I recommend it.”

A big thank you to Cody Watson and the Newhalem-Diablo Fire Brigade for continuing to keep everyone in the area safe!