Philomath Fire & Rescue extricates a motorist during a Feb. 24 crash on an icy Highway 20 near Blodgett. (Photo provided by Philomath Fire & Rescue)

A couple of years ago when our then-infant son took a nasty spill against the wall, we freaked out when this huge bump formed on his head. Was it a serious head injury? Should we call the ambulance?

While I stayed home with our older toddler, my wife strapped the baby into the car and headed to the emergency room. I mentioned that she might stop by Philomath Fire & Rescue real quick to see if they would have a quick analysis on whether or not we needed to be frantic about the situation.

The medic on duty calmed her fears but suggested that a trip to the hospital might be a good idea as a follow-up. Everything turned out fine — and we learned a little more about how to respond when something like that happens.

My point of sharing this personal experience is that Philomath Fire & Rescue provides a great service to this community. I’ve done a lot of stories about the emergency response organization over the years, including a few months ago as they tried to deal with a record number of calls and a shortage of volunteers.

I don’t have any statistics in front of me but highway-related crashes seem to be on the rise. I know Benton County has responded to three fatal crashes already this year on Highway 99W and we also see our share of accidents on the highways closer to home. The recent winter weather and icy road conditions never help.

Take Feb. 24 for instance when a stretch of Highway 20 was extremely icy. The local fire department responded to a couple of crashes on that Friday afternoon in the Blodgett vicinity, including a van that spun out and ended up on its side. Blodgett-Summit Fire and Philomath Fire sent an engine and a combined six personnel to the scene.

The highway was shut down for 20 minutes while responders extricated the motorist from the vehicle. A Benton County Sheriff’s Office deputy was the first person on the scene, Fire & Rescue’s Rich Saalsaa told me, and climbed into the overturned van to stabilize this person before assisting with the extrication.

A couple of days later, Philomath Fire & Rescue assisted law enforcement on its operation at Philomath City Park, tending to the man who was arrested after he had a seizure in the cold waters of Newton Creek.

To me, these folks are just so important and I hope the organization finds stability into the future as they take on issues with personnel shortages and budgetary challenges. Whether it’s a nasty crash on the highway, an elderly person who falls in their home, assisting at the scene of a police operation or calming a frantic mother whose baby has a bump on the head, Philomath Fire & Rescue does a lot in and around this town.

2. Corvallis interchange project 

The Oregon Department of Transportation started work a few days ago on the damaged Highway 20 ramp in Corvallis. Back in November, a truck going southbound on Highway 99W caused the damage.

But this is just a heads up if you’re headed to that part of Corvallis. This specifically is work being done to the eastbound Highway 20/34 ramp that takes you to northbound Highway 99W.

So, there will be traffic shifts, and lane and road closures under those bridges at the interchange in the coming weeks, ODOT says.

From now through March 6, the ramp to northbound 99W will be closed entirely day and night. Southbound 99W will also see full closure nightly through March 6, and then a two-lane closure today during the day and nightly from March 7-10.

By the way, ODOT is charging the vehicle owner for the repairs.

3. Alsea’s new superintendent

The Alsea School Board announced this week the hiring of Krista Nieraeth as its new superintendent. She will join the district on July 1.

“Miss Nieraeth will make an exceptional superintendent for our district and we’re excited to have her,” board chair Risteen Follett said through a press release. “Her experience as a teacher combined with outstanding leadership skills only adds to her ability to relate and make positive changes for our district, staff and students.”  

Nieraeth will join Alsea from the Port Orford-Langlois School District, where she currently serves as a K-12 principal, special education director and federal grants coordinator. Her background also includes athletic director, math teacher and science teacher.

Sean Gallagher has been serving as the acting superintendent for the past year following the resignation of Marc Thielman.

(Brad Fuqua is publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached at

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.