This year’s open house and health fair will run from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday at Philomath Fire and Rescue’s main station in Philomath. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Whether it’s fighting a fire on South 16th Street, cleaning up a hazardous materials spill on Applegate Street or helping the victim of a crash on Highway 20, Philomath Fire and Rescue is one of the most visible agencies in town.

In the heat of an emergency response, however, personnel interacting with the public has its limitations.

“I think there’s a lot of mystery about the fire department oftentimes,” Philomath Fire and Rescue Deputy Fire Chief Rich Saalsaa said. “We’re visible and you see us whizzing by and of course there’s the more obvious things like a structure fire or even medical calls or traffic accidents where they can kind of see us. But they really don’t know anything behind the scenes.”

The opportunity to go behind the scenes arrives Saturday at the Philomath Fire and Rescue and Strengthening Rural Families Open House and Health Fair. The event will run from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at Station 201 on Main Street.

“I think it’s a good opportunity just for people to meet and greet the responders,” Saalsaa said. “It is the type of event where we’re up close and personal with folks and it’s not in an emergency situation. I think that connectedness makes a big difference.”

With road and sidewalk construction in the vicinity, those who head out to the open house may find it challenging to find a place to park. Saalsaa said overflow parking will be located at the neighboring Philomath Museum.

Philomath Fire and Rescue and Strengthening Rural Families formerly held separate events but joined forces in 2019.

“I think it’s strength in numbers more than anything else,” Saalsaa said. “They had a lot of health-care providers (participating) but were just struggling to get people to come to the event. That’s when I approached them and said, ‘hey, do you want to put these things together?’ And from there, it’s been magic.”

Fire engine rides always attract a line of kids and adults at the annual open house.

“We take them around on a long loop — go down to the end of Main Street and loop back on Applegate and go to 13th before coming back to the station,” Saalsaa said. “So they get a pretty good ride.”

Saalsaa said a few new organizations will be participating and in all, 18 vendors will be in attendance.

“I think this is the most we’ve had,” Saalsaa said. “I’ve actually had to push people (vendors and presenters) outside (the fire station).”

A food vendor will be on site for the event with Moondogg Cantina, a Toledo-based operation known for its signature hot dogs.

Various demonstrations will be set up, including the Oregon Department of Forestry’s popular burn table that illustrates fire behavior. The fire department will demonstrate hands-only CPR and how firefighters put on their equipment.

In addition, kids can direct a fire hose at a house prop in another popular activity or interact with Smokey Bear. Maxtivity Arts and Crafts Creative Space will be offering activities and Glitter Tattoos adds to the fun. Plus, there will be several other things to do as offered by the various participating organizations.

On another note, Saalsaa mentioned that State Farm Insurance with Severn Thomas and Benton County Schools Credit Union both made generous donations, not only for the open house but for the purchase of smoke detectors. The fire district has a free smoke detector program in place for those in need.

Last year, the event returned after it had been canceled in 2020 and 2021.

“It came snapping back — it was like we never took a break,” Saalsaa said. “This year, I’m hoping for even more, it’s definitely in the air this year more.”

Philomath Fire and Rescue has focused more on public engagement in recent months through social media, especially since the agency suspended the printing and mailing of a newsletter.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.