Not long after arriving in Oregon to begin a job as a professor at Oregon State University, Viktor Bovbjerg crossed paths with Philomath Fire and Rescue while on a drive through town in 2010.
“I drove past this department a few months after we moved here and there was a sign up that said ‘we’re looking for volunteers,’” Bovbjerg said. “I had spent time when I was younger in uniform and thought this would be a good way to engage with the community and give back to something that was simultaneously challenging and useful to the community.”
The volunteer position turned into a permanent gig this month when it was announced that he had been hired as staff captain. Bovbjerg was chosen from among three candidates.
“Viktor tested for the position and we were all extremely excited when he came out No. 1,” Fire Chief Chancy Ferguson said. “There’s a lot continuity there — he’s been working on the training side of things for the last seven or eight months since I’ve stepped up into the chief’s position so he’s going to hit the ground running, which is awesome — as well as his familiarity with the district and all the things that go along with that.”
Bovbjerg said he is retiring from his position as a professor in Oregon State University’s College of Health “so that I can devote all my energies to this new position.” Bovbjerg’s area of expertise on the Corvallis campus, where he has been since 2009, revolved around public health and epidemiology.
Bovbjerg, 61, is scheduled to begin his new job June 30.
“The position is a combined training officer with community engagement and risk reduction officer,” Bovbjerg said. “So, it’s all about training and community engagement and both of those are things I’ve done throughout my career. And both those are areas that really make a difference in terms of fire and life safety in a community.
“It’s something I’ve done since I was in my early 20s,” he added. “I’m happy to do it now in the community that I call home.”
Deputy Fire Chief Rich Saalsaa has continued to perform the duties of the department’s fire and life safety officer after he had been promoted to deputy fire chief. As a result, Bovbjerg’s hiring means Saalsaa can focus more on his primary responsibilities, which also includes fire marshal and public information officer.
Through the years, Bovbjerg has earned several awards with Philomath Fire & Rescue, including twice being named Firefighter of the Year. He also received a Philomath Samaritan Award in 2015 for his contributions to the community.
“My goal has always been to be of service to the department in whatever way I can,” Bovbjerg said. “Until now as a volunteer, in that role, you can’t always go as far as you want and contribute as much as you want to the department and it’s always been a rewarding activity for me. The folks here, they’re great folks and it’s been an honor to work with them for all this time. I didn’t join with this in mind but the opportunity arose and it’s a new way for me to contribute to the department.”
Volunteering and working for a fire department involves a healthy diet of training and certifications due to the technical aspects of the job.
“As you move up in this organization, you’re expected to be able to, for instance, operate everything in the engine bay — not everyone does that but once you get to a certain rank, you’re expected to be able to do that,” said Bovbjerg, who earned the rank of lieutenant as a Fire & Rescue volunteer. “In addition, there’s a fair bit of leadership and skills and training that goes into it. So, the Incident Command System series that FEMA teaches — engaged in fire officer training. So that’s both leadership and organizational management activities.”
Ferguson now permanent fire chief
In other news involving the staff, Ferguson will be moving into the fire chief’s job on a permanent basis with a new contract that becomes effective July 1.
The Philomath Fire and Rescue Board of Directors appointed Ferguson as interim fire chief this past September after parting ways with former fire chief Tom Miller.
“Despite the many challenges and unknowns, Chief Ferguson immediately began the process of recovery and forward momentum,” board president Daphne Phillips wrote in a letter to staff and volunteers. “He, and many of you, took on the tasks of righting what needed to be fixed, simplifying what needed to be streamlined, understanding what needed to become clear and beginning what needed to be built.
“Throughout these past months, Chief Ferguson has worked to rebuild trust and imagine a better future,” she added.
Prior to his interim fire chief appointment, Ferguson had been serving the district since 2019 as the deputy fire chief.
“To be honest, I never thought four years ago I would be at the fire chief level,” Ferguson said. “It’s been a huge learning curve but extremely rewarding at the same time.”
Ferguson said moving into the fire chief’s position has represented “a huge opportunity to build our team and set the direction of the department that we feel is the best way to serve the community. We’ve had a lot of work and stuff to kind of overcome some of that but it’s been an amazing opportunity.”