Series: Get to know your volunteer firefighter | Guest Column

Veteran volunteer firefighters Peter and Susan Risser.   - Contributed photo / Sheila Harley
Veteran volunteer firefighters Peter and Susan Risser.
— image credit: Contributed photo / Sheila Harley

By Sheila Harley, San Juan Island Fire & Rescue

Special to the Journal

Peter and Susan Risser are one of the several couples who volunteer with San Juan Island Fire & Rescue. Both work as tender operators. Their job is to make sure there is enough water for the fire scene.

Peter started with the Town of Friday Harbor Fire Department in 1985, while Susan didn’t start until 1988. He says a friend guilted him into it.  Susan wanted to see why Peter was so hooked on firefighting and after taking fire fighting classes, she got hooked also.

Susan has another year with the district before retirement while Peter has just retired. They were hooked for sure. Susan noted that there is no social classing in the fire department. Everyone has a job and does it like a good family.

The Rissers came here from Seattle. They had been sailing the islands for a couple of years, getting to know about them before they settled here running San Juan Canvas for 26 years.

As well as volunteering with firefighting, they both have been very active with the San Juan Island Sailing Foundation for many years, the community theatre, the San Juan Island Food Co-op, and are just taking on a 4- H sheep project.

Other volunteer jobs they have done in the fire department include the Easter Egg Hunt, the clothing bank, which has become the Thrift Store, rummage sales benefiting the fire department, the Haunted House at the town fire station, the pancake breakfasts, helping with the rescue of birds after the oil spill in Ocean Shores in 1988, and feeding the volunteers who brought the birds to Friday Harbor for cleaning.

The Rissers, since 1992, have been working with school children from kindergarten through 6th grade, tailoring fire prevention programs in age-appropriate classes. This has been a favorite of theirs and they hope to continue this important work in the future. The Rissers also partner with the fire department, giving fire extinguisher classes to community groups.

Peter says that on the mainland “they” is always some unknown face volunteering. Here, the “they” are us. Our volunteer jobs with the fire department are, “as gratifying a thing one can do,” says Peter, but people should know that, although firefighting can be fun, it requires a great deal of commitment and time.

San Juan Island Fire Rescue is happy to welcome married couples along with men and women of all walks of life to join in protecting life and property. There is even a cadet program for high schoolers.

— Editor’s note: Previously featured in the “Get to your volunteer firefighter” series:

Brandon Baney, April 16, pg. 5

Lenora Johnson, Feb. 19, pg. 8


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