OLYMPIA, Wash. – A service member is often born with a strong desire to help others. Whether it’s coaching a child’s sports team, cleaning up the neighborhood or any number of other community activities, public service is frequently a common trait of those serving in the military.
Sgt. 1st Class Nick Van Kirk, a logistics and decontamination non-commissioned officer with the Washington Army National Guard’s 10th Civil Support Team, wanted to give back to his community in a different way.
Growing up in the South Bay community of Olympia, Washington, Van Kirk lived down the street from the South Bay Fire Department. 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 when his unit switched from a 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 a certain number of hours to earn required certifications. However, being a full-time member of the 10th Civil Support Team and 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,” said Van Kirk. “My command supported everything about me volunteering with South Bay.”
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,” said Army 1st Sgt. Paul Gautreaux, the CST’s first sergeant. “He never misses a day of work with us though. 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 the CST, to use during a critical situation. That morning, Van Kirk and other members of the South Bay team responded to a call involving a driver missing a turn and hitting two small children who were playing on the shoreline.
“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, adding the two children were rushed to a local hospital 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,” said John Clemons, medical service officer with the South Bay Fire Department. “He organized the sub-units to the incident and helped save the lives of two little ones. He is a real asset to our station.”
His commander with the CST, Air Force Maj. Wes Watson, also believes it’s great for his team at the 10th Civil Support Team.
“He is like so many in the organization,” said Watson. “They are the quiet professionals, volunteering their own time to help others. It’s just the spirit of the Guard.”