As we start a new year in 2022, let’s begin by recognizing the terrific accomplishments of the men and women who serve our community as members of Philomath Fire & Rescue. These are the men and women that humbly volunteer to serve as guardians of Philomath.
On Thursday, Jan. 13, Philomath Fire & Rescue held its first promotion and recognition ceremony since January 2020 at the Philomath Museum. Given the pandemic, it has been tough to find a good time to gather to recognize these all too often “unsung heroes.”
Chief Tom Miller reasoned that the awards were long overdue and if the department waited much longer, they’d have to conduct the ceremony in a larger venue. There were lots of oaths to administer, badges to pin, certifications to award, helmets to be distributed and promotions to be made.
It was impressive to see 15 new volunteer firefighters lined up in their dark blue uniforms across the stage, as our new Benton County sheriff, Jef Van Arsdall, prepared to swear them in by reciting the oath of office. For those who aren’t aware, Van Arsdall himself was sworn in as the new Benton County sheriff less than a year ago on March 15, 2021.
I think it says a lot about the character of these young people who chose to volunteer and swear an oath to serve as volunteer first responders in this community during a pandemic.
An excerpt from the oath: “I … do solemnly swear that I will faithfully and to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, the state of Oregon and the policies, rules and regulations of this fire district.”
Fifteen of the 20 new firefighters listed were present to be sworn in and have their firefighter badges pinned on Thursday night. New firefighters include Allan Aguirre, Robert Barber, Jacob Bernards, Jacob Crawford, Brandon Dowell, Cody Eddy, Dan Eddy, Olivia Friedel, Jackie Goldman, Mike Johnson, Katie Kearns, Horace Leake, Elliott Lowry, Ryan Phan, Chris Rath, Sam Schmeusser, Jon Tyra, Steph Vallancey, Tiffany Wikoff and Cassidy Worthington.
Philomath Fire & Rescue has stayed extremely busy throughout the pandemic. In 2021, the eight paid staff and 35 volunteers responded to 868 calls for service. If you break these down, 671 calls were medical representing 77% of the total while 207 calls, or 23%, were fire calls.
Obviously given the COVID outbreak, there has been a noticeable surge in call medical volume. This call volume was up 14% from 2020 when the district responded to 769 calls. As a baseline prior to the pandemic, in 2019, they responded to just 700 calls. With a growing community and an ongoing pandemic, call volumes jumped a whopping 24% over the last two years. Our firefighters have been busy!
One of the interesting things is that even despite this increased call volume, our firefighters constantly train and work hard completing continuous learning in order to improve their skills. There were over 30 certifications achieved by our firefighters in the last two years. To achieve these certifications, volunteers must meet the standards outlined from the National Fire Protection Agency.
For example, Sam Schmeusser achieved certification as a fire truck driver, Aine Smith was certified as pumper operator, and Brandon Dowell was certified to handle hazardous material operations. Both Cassidy Worthington and Olivia Friedel earned certifications as emergency medical technicians.
Not only is it heartening that these people volunteer to serve our community, but they also continuously aspire to advance their skills in preparation to serve us even better when future calls are received.
Over a dozen firefighters advanced from black helmets to yellow helmets which visually signify that they have advanced their skills from basic firefighting to being certified to fight fires inside a structure. These colors help the members of the department visually recognize one another in the heat of the moment.
Two firefighters received promotions to the rank of lieutenant which advances them from a yellow helmet to a red helmet that signals a leadership role. Both Trent Tegan and Lindsay Taylor received lieutenant promotions and were sworn in separately by Sheriff Van Ardsall.
Rachel Hindman and Sal Sagill were sworn into the emergency medical service that provides swift response to medical emergencies as required.
Chief Miller shared with the assembled audience that “every time we walk out the door could be someone’s worst day. We don’t pick our call. We just answer the call, and no call is the same. We do the best we can.”
We are fortunate to have a well-trained group of dedicated people that serve us as firefighters that stand ready to answer our calls for service. They are prepared. They keep us safe. They volunteer.
I would encourage you to honor them in some way as we start a new year.
(Eric Niemann is a former mayor and city councilor in Philomath. He can be reached at Lifeinphilomath@gmail.com).