As a retired Ellensburg firefighter, Wyman Renfrow knew the exhilaration of saving lives. As a volunteer at KVH Hospital Renfrow, now 80, also knows the satisfaction of making life easier for others.
Flash back 40-plus years. Renfrow and another firefighter are out doing inspections when dispatch signals a house fire. First on the scene in their pickup truck, the two men find flames visible – and a baby trapped upstairs. Renfrow tries the inside stairs but is forced back by heat, smoke and exploding ammo.
A fire truck arrives and begins raising a ladder to the upstairs window. “I started climbing even before the tip hit the window sill,” recalls Renfrow, who found the baby, took her to the window and handed her off to another firefighter.
And yes, he says, there is a “rush” to saving lives.
The truth is, he didn’t set out to become a firefighter. A 1952 Ellensburg High grad, he enrolled at CWU intending to become a teacher. That summer he also began volunteering with the Ellensburg Fire Department, drawn by the lure of public service.
In 1956, Renfrow landed a job as a firefighter with the Seattle Fire Department and four years later joined the Ellensburg Fire Department, eventually rising to the rank of captain. Along the way, he and another member of the firefighters union co-founded Local 1758 Life Support Fund, a fund that allows the public to make charitable donations to support fire department services.
Retired after 27 years as a professional firefighter, Renfrow, who had driven a school bus during college and been a substitute driver while working as a firefighter, went back to driving a bus. “I liked the kids,” says Renfrow, who was a bus driver for 50 years and director of transportation for two.
But even when he was done with that, he wasn’t really done.
In 2008, Renfrow signed on as a volunteer at KVH Hospital and now works six hours a week at the desk in the Surgical Outpatient (SOP) department and four more at the courtesy desk in the hospital lobby.
Karen Schock, volunteer director at the hospital, currently manages 65 to 70 community volunteers like Renfrow. In 2014, they donated 13,170 hours, a contribution valued at more than $300,000, Schock says.
But their role is really priceless.
Readily distinguishable in their blue KVH volunteer jackets, Schock says community volunteers offer a comforting personal touch aimed at reducing the anxiety patients and their visitors may feel in what might otherwise seem an impersonal, clinical environment.
In SOP, volunteers provide a warm transition from check-in to the point where a registered nurse takes over. At the front lobby courtesy desk, volunteers greet the public, often personally escorting patients or their visitors to the appropriate area.
“After a patient checks in, we’re the first smiling face they see,” says Renfrow whom Schock calls an outstanding example of KVH Hospital’s volunteer corps.
“He trains volunteers in the SOP desk and courtesy desk positions,” Schock says. In the SOP department, “he notices what the department needs to provide patients and their families with an experience that is exceptional.”
Example: SOP appointments start at 6:30 a.m. But volunteers didn’t start until 7:15 a.m. When Renfrow realized that some patients were arriving as early as 6:15 a.m., he changed his schedule so that he also arrives at 6:15 a.m. to start the setup process, make coffee and be ready for early arrivals.
New volunteers are now expected to do the same thing. He also helped develop written standards for the courtesy desk and SOP desk, ensuring that all volunteers know what is expected and how to make it happen.
“I wanted to do something to help,” Renfrow says. “This is a way I could help the community. It’s fun and I enjoy it. I feel like I’m helping the hospital – and the people who go here.”