Art appreciation: Vashon Fire’s 2019 annual report

In art-starved June of 2020, the most unlikely of aesthetic pleasures arrived in islanders’ mailboxes

Vashon Fire’s annual community report of 2019, surprisingly, landed in islanders’ mailboxes in June in the form of a graphic novel (Courtesy Photo).

Vashon Fire’s annual community report of 2019, surprisingly, landed in islanders’ mailboxes in June in the form of a graphic novel (Courtesy Photo).

In the art-starved month of June, 2020, after we had all been deprived of live music, theater, art exhibits and even bookstores for what seemed like forever, the most unlikely of aesthetic pleasures arrived in islanders’ mailboxes — the 2019 annual report of Vashon Island Fire and Rescue.

The report, reassuringly titled “Omnia Paratus,” — Latin, of course, for the firefighter’s pledge to be “In All Things Ready” — was presented in the form of a 29-page graphic novel, written by Fire Chief Charles Krimmert, who also contributed sketches to the project.

Thumbing through the book, I had to ask myself — has there ever been a more stylish, informative and bookshelf-worthy annual report produced by a small-town fire department, anywhere?

The answer, of course, is no. Maybe some other rural or even big-city fire department, somewhere in the world, has created something just as good, but nothing better.

Credit should go to the designer of the book, Krimmert’s wife Laura Neuman, and to her collaborator Trevor Stearns, for his masterful, high-octane illustrations.

“Omni Paratus” begins with a full-page panel illustrating the “stranger than fiction” true tale of an osprey nest perched atop the main fire station’s 120-foot tall communications tower — whose occupants sometimes drop large fish into the department’s parking lot.

It’s a fun start to the report, forecasting other high-flying surprises to come.

Most of the 10-chapter report, drawn and captioned in Marvel comics super-hero style, details the department’s real-life adventures and accomplishments of 2019.

The graphic novel is a perfect format to capture the world of firefighters, the branch of first responders known for search-and-rescue prowess, emergency medical skills, and saving both lives and property from terrible, sudden conflagrations.

Firefighters are, in the parlance of Mister Rogers, the ultimate “helpers” we look for in times of trouble — and was there ever more of a troublesome era than this?

So actually, these summer days seem to be the perfect time to sit down at the kitchen table with a page-turner like “Omnia Paratus.”

One chapter, rendered with bold chiaroscuro, details the department’s heroics in extinguishing a fire at Pacific Research Northwest (Sawbones) in early January 2019.

Another tells the road-trip journey of the department’s new fire truck, which traveled all the way from South Dakota to Vashon to be blessed by VIFD’s chaplain, Father Tryphon.

And another chapter takes readers deep inside a smoke-filled “search and rescue prop” used by the department to train firefighters.

But that’s not all. There is enormously practical and useful information tucked inside the report as well. The centerpiece of it all is a dense, four-page listing of community resources for islanders including the most vulnerable people in our community — organizations that provide assistance for meals, utility payments and even vouchers for free clothing. There is a directory of medical, dental, counseling and recovery resources, as well as confidential health services for teens, women, and those experiencing domestic violence.

Do you know someone who might need health care, home care, housing, transportation or legal services? It’s all in the annual report.

This is a book to keep handy, now more than ever.

“Omnia Paratus,” though largely concerned with 2019, interrupts itself with a full-page letter to islanders from Chief Krimmert, written shortly before publication, detailing the department’s tight partnership with VashonBePrepared, the island’s Medical Reserves Corps, and the Emergency Operations Center team to assist and support islanders during the time of the pandemic.

Reading these pages was another uplifting reminder that we are surrounded by “helpers” all over Vashon, busy doing quiet but essential work to keep our community strong.

The report details the Fire District’s dispatch overview from 2019, with 1536 responses to 911 calls, and 696 dispatches requiring transport to a hospital or transfer to a private ambulance. That’s a lot of help.

There are pages devoted to home fire safety tips, a burn permit with a helpful drawing by Krimmert of residential burn criteria, and a form — ready to clip out of the book — for ordering a special address sign with white reflective letters that is visible day or night. You want the firefighters and EMTs to be able to quickly find your dark, twisting driveway, don’t you?

Krimmert, in a brief telephone interview, said that in the weeks after the book was sent to islanders, he’d received an influx of orders for the special address sign — so many that on one day, the department stacked up 18 signs prepared for pickup at the station.

The fire chief also said he received generally positive feedback about the annual report.

“‘I read it from cover to cover’ was one of the comments I received,” he said, adding that he’d also heard that some islanders were handing it off to their home-bound children so that they could color in the black-and-white drawings. Others, he said, had requested additional copies to send to friends and family members.

It’s the third annual report produced by Krimmert during his time as fire chief. All can be viewed at vifr.org.

It’s also the most expensive annual report produced by the department, Krimmert said.

According to Rebecca Pollack, district secretary and finance manager for the district, the final cost of the book’s production and its mailing to all island residents added up to approximately $16,500. Some of that cost has already been offset by the increase in sales of special address signs, she added.

But for those who look at the book’s glossy, full-color cover and fret about the big expenditure, it should be noted that the report also includes a section on the department’s 2019 finances, detailing how the department managed its taxpayer-generated revenues in 2019.

In a nutshell, the district spent $1,043,157 less than its revenues and ended the year $106,565 under budget. Overall bank balances were improved by $656,403. The department’s end-of-year account balances, including those for reserve funds, were just below $3 million.

This taxpayer (and art lover) is grateful for VIFR’s stewardship of its public funding and okay with the fact that the department spent about $1.65 per island resident to tell the community, in such a surprisingly stylish and engaging way, about its work. The book was definitely a splurge, but it is also a keepsake and a necessary compendium about the range of public services provided on Vashon.

Islanders can pick up copies of the report at Vashon’s main fire station, or view it online at vifr.org/files/news/207/VIFR2019ACR.pdf.


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