Volunteer firefighter stays close to home in Cannon Beach

Silvia Avila at the Cannon Beach fire station.

Born and raised in Cannon Beach, she would get to know them as they would stop in for coffee at her job at Cheri’s Cafe & Cannon Beach Cookie. She even remembers putting on firefighting gear herself as a kindergartner during a school field trip to the fire station.

But perhaps where she was most intimately familiar was at her aunt’s house, when firefighters and paramedics responded when her cousin’s seizures would get out of hand.

“I felt very helpless. I wanted to change that feeling, because I wanted to be able to help,” Avila, 19, said. “That’s where my passion progressed from.”

Moments like these inspired her senior Pacifica project at Seaside High School, where she chose to volunteer at the fire station and enroll in Community Emergency Response Team training.

Even as her project came to a close, her passion for medicine and the desire to help led to her eventually becoming a Cannon Beach volunteer firefighter herself the spring of 2016.

“I guess they just couldn’t get rid of me,” she laughed.

A year later, Avila now splits her time between volunteer firefighting and studying EMT and paramedic studies at Lane Community College in Eugene with her brother, who also is a volunteer firefighter.

Avila said one of her favorite aspects of the work is the camaraderie. She craves learning new skills like preparing IV fluids and injury prevention techniques.

But working in a community where she has such close ties has also presented personal challenges.

“My biggest challenge was definitely going on scene to my cousin’s car accident. That was a traumatic moment,” Avila said.

Avila remembers being asked to do traffic control — a task she had done multiple times before since she is not yet qualified to conduct some of the emergency tactics necessary in a major car accident.

“At the end of the call we’re debriefing, another member of the team was describing her, and it immediately started to click. I asked if anyone recognized her name, and it was her,” she said. “She was in the hospital for about three months. It was all very hard to process.”

If anything, the accident only emboldened her desire to protect the community she grew up loving, she said.

“Growing up in Cannon Beach felt very safe. It was kind of surreal. My cousins and I would play on the beach, pretend we’re tourists out on the town, going back to our hotel,” she said. “Cannon Beach is special. I can’t think of any other place I’d rather be.”

If there’s one thing she doesn’t love about Cannon Beach, she said it would be “the impending tsunami, I guess.” As a child in a beach town, the value of emergency preparedness was taught early in her family, and something that has guided her life.

“We grew up with emergency planning. We have gone through many warnings,” she said. “Whenever we’d hear about a warning we’d stay up, drinking coffee and watching the news with our go-bags ready to go. It was almost like a family activity.

“I feel like I should be scared,” she continued. “But growing up we did all the drills. You can’t live in fear of what happens next.”

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