Behind the lights and sirens
The daily life of first responders in Moscow

October 10, 2017

On an average day, the Moscow Police Department receives about 30 calls per shift, Police Captain Paul Kwiatkowski said. With three shifts every 24 hours, the attendants of the police station answer between 60 and 90 calls per day.

“If you’re going to be a police officer, it’s not about shooting and firing. It’s more about talking,” Kwiatkowski said. “You’re more about being a social worker with a gun.”

But long before any police offer is ready to take calls, they must undergo a minimum 26-week training camp, Kwiatkowski said.

The police academy training takes place in Boise. Kwiatkowski said academy trainees are taught how to deal with everything from domestic violence situations to car crash responses — especially how to properly use a firearm.

He said a large amount of information is presented during the 7-month training period.

“It’s like drinking water through a fire hose,” he said. “Then you come back and you spend another 16 weeks in an FTO program.”

The Field Officer Training Program gives new officers a chance to work with experienced officers in the field before going out on their own.

Kwiatkowski said the extensive training helps lessen the fear officers might have before experiencing real-world situations.

“You train, train, train, train and then when something happens, training takes over,” Kwiatkowski said.

He said some aspects of the job are nerve-racking, but the lengthy training process helps during those intense times.

“We’ve had murders here — we’ve lost a police officer,” Kwiatkowski said. “Going through that door and you don’t know what’s on the other side, is scary, but you’ve trained to do it, and you do it.”

Kwiatkowski said there is little time to let emotions get in the way when things get tough.

“You deal with it and then at the moment you cannot be hysterical,” Kwiatkowski said.

Though it might seem unlikely, he said one of the most dangerous tasks an officer is given is pulling over a car because of the uncertainty of who might be in it.

“I can run the license plate thing and tell me the name of the person the car is registered to,” Kwiatkowski said. “But I don’t know if that person just killed somebody, robbed somebody, made a drug deal, beat up their wife, has a warrant from some other state.”

Despite the dangers, long hours and little pay, he said he loves his job because he gets to help others.

“It’s a great job — it’s all about service,” Kwiatkowski said.

For Ryder Magnaghi, a third-year University of Idaho student, the service oriented lifestyle was not always on his mind before going to college.

“I didn’t come here to become a first responder — it wasn’t like a childhood dream,” Magnaghi said. “I saw it was kind of an opportunity that I saw and it looked really fun and interesting — something I wanted to try.”

It was not until the beginning of the forestry major’s sophomore year when he first heard about the Moscow Volunteer Fire Department’s program with the university.

The Resident Firefighter program began in 1948 according to the City of Moscow website. The program gives new firefighters the chance to live in the downtown fire station and attend school while training and responding to emergency situations in the Moscow area.

“In exchange for living at the station for free, we run our shifts, we run our calls,” Magnaghi said.

He also said his unique participation opportunity in the resident program allows for him to receive free training as well.

Magnaghi said his shifts rotate along with the other residents. He said there are five crews — Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta and Echo — that work at the fire station. Magnaghi became the crew boss of the Alpha shift this year.

He said a general weekday shift begins at 4:30 in the afternoon and ends at 7:30 the next morning. Weekend shifts, he said, are often 24 hours long. This schedule allows for Magnaghi to attend classes and train with the fire department.

Magnaghi said his experience is unique in the fact that he can go to school and help the community as a first responder.

“We get to go to school, and then you know, maybe 10 minutes after being at a class, we’re driving lights and sirens with an engine down the road.”

Magnaghi said he finds joy in knowing he’s doing something to help others.

“We’ve gotten calls where somebody obviously really needs our help,” Magnaghi said. “It’s nice knowing you’re the person there to help them.”

But, Magnaghi said every job has its difficulties.

Because he is in charge of a crew, Magnaghi said more responsibility falls to him when making the tough decisions. He said he decides when his crew should drive straight to the fire or if they should do more research before arriving on the scene.

“Their lives are on my hands,” Magnaghi said. “It’s a big risk for a bunch of 18 to 23-year-old kids — it can weigh pretty heavy.”

He said safety is always in the back of his mind — on and off the job.

Magnaghi said the comradery between volunteer firefighters and the resident firefighters helps to create a close community of first responders.

“We’re a pretty tight knit group here — not only with the resident program but with the department as a whole,” Magnaghi said. “We’re always training together or setting aside time to train together.”

Both Magnaghi and Kwiatkowski said teamwork between the fire department and police department, as well as other first response teams, is important.

Kwiatkowski said though their individual roles vary, the need for a cohesive team of first responders helps most in regard to safety.

“The police officers are usually the first on the scene, simply because we’re on the street,” Kwiatkowski said. “But when a fire call comes out, we are the ones directing traffic.”

Magnaghi said the help needed for both groups to succeed is mutual.

“We run into the law enforcement all the time on calls and stuff,” Magnaghi said. “If they need us, they call us or, if we need them, we call them.”


A police car parked outside the Moscow Police Station.

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