It was less than a year ago on this page that we were leading the applause for Clatsop County firefighters who answered the call to help fight wildfires around the region.
It is time to do so again after the latest round of fires — and the year is only two-thirds done.
As Brenna Visser reported, Clatsop crews and individuals have been answering the call with vigor and enthusiasm. Last year was a record-setting year, with more than 50 firefighters traveling to fighting multiple fires in Oregon and California.
This year there have already been three significant call-outs.
Folks like Lewis and Clark Fire Chief Jeff Golightly, Gearhart Fire Chief Bill Eddy and Cannon Beach Fire Chief Matt Benedict know the value of this work. It goes beyond being good neighborly. The real-world experience that their staff and volunteers gain by traveling to help is priceless. We fervently hope we never suffer significant wildfires here on the North Coast. But if we do, these personnel will be better equipped and trained to perform their jobs.
The Substation, South Valley, Memaloose 2 and Dufur fires have been in the regional headlines, and our local heroes have figured at each. Many had a half-hour to get ready and leave — and by all accounts have performed with distinction.
Some, like James Hutchinson of Gearhart, come home with poignant stories. He had to lend his phone so a person could call their family to inform them their farm was gone.
“In those moments you take a step into their shoes, and it can be hard,” he told Visser. “But you have to make it a motivation and remember you are there to help.”
Beyond the memorable experiences of those who go, the summer fire season provides those who are not chosen an opportunity to step into leadership roles here on the Coast. They are able to work more shifts and respond to more calls locally. That “deeper-bench” development for our local fire departments benefits us all, too.
And we cannot credit these brave firefighters without again mentioning their families and employers who support their going. Spouses and children take on the worry every minute that their loved ones are in harm’s way. They frequently have no consistent opportunities to reassure them, in part because of the erratic nature of cell service in rural areas. Employers worry similarly, while having to assign other staff at short notice to cover for their missing personnel while they are away.
While the state reimburses local departments for expenses associated with these trips, departments do have to pay some costs ahead. Chief Golightly estimates more than $500,000 was paid out to all Clatsop County departments last year; some bills have not yet been paid.
Still, it is clearly the right thing to do. We send a clear signal to our Western neighbors that we are ready, willing and able to help. We all benefit.