Dan Crutchfield isn’t entirely sure what inspired him to become a firefighter at such a young age.
As early as 4 years old, he remembers being fascinated by the big, red firetrucks he would see drive through his hometown of Coos Bay, always questioning where they were going and what they were doing.
Maybe he was inspired by the day he saw his neighbor’s house catch fire across the street. Whatever it was, it’s a desire that has never wavered.
“I think a lot of little kids have that sense,” he said. “But then they grow out of it ... I didn’t grow out of it.”
In March, Crutchfield started as Astoria’s new fire chief after a 26-year career at the Coos Bay Fire Department. Richard Curtis led the department as interim chief following the retirement of former Fire Chief Ted Ames in September.
“I’m humbled and honored to be here,” Crutchfield said.
Crutchfield started his firefighting career as a volunteer at 18 in Coos Bay before eventually being hired as a career firefighter in 1996.
“Everything about it seemed like it would be fun,” he said. “You don’t know fully until you get there ... the sense of teamwork you feel. You’re helping people, and most of the time we win. Most of the time we go to a call and we make it better. It’s satisfying.”
While there was no definitive moment that made him want to enter the fire service, his drive to become an officer can be sourced to a single fire.
In 2002, a fire at a commercial auto parts store caused the roof of the building to cave in, killing three of his fellow firefighters. During the incident, Crutchfield was assigned to give updates to the family of one of the firefighters, and helped them navigate resources available after a loved one dies in the line of duty.
After the dust had settled, he was tasked with carrying the body of one of his colleagues out of the rubble.
“Obviously that was a horrible day,” he said.
But it was also a day that taught him many lessons on how to be a better firefighter, he said, and sparked a passion to get into leadership.
“That was when I first felt a desire to maybe be an officer some day,” Crutchfield said. “I thought with the proper training and experience to lead people that maybe I could help avoid a tragedy like that again if possible.”
From there, Crutchfield stepped into the shoes of the friend that he lost and filled his role as the hazardous materials coordinator for 10 years.
Astoria first came onto his radar after Astoria’s hazmat coordinator suggested he apply for the fire chief opening that ended up being filled by Ames. He passed at the time, feeling he wanted to get more experience.
But he kept the idea in the back of his mind.
“I was kind of honored he would think of me in that way,” he said.
In 2013, he became the battalion chief, where he oversaw Coos Bay’s fire prevention program and helped implement a smoke-alarm program.
About five years later, he saw the fire chief position open up again in Astoria and decided to make the leap.
“I knew I would be leaving a lot of good things behind,” he said. “But I knew there was so much potential here.”
So far, Crutchfield said he feels “super encouraged” by the teamwork he has seen at the fire department. He hopes to use the lessons he has learned to fine-tune the department and look for opportunities to make operations safer.
Only about a month into the job, Crutchfield said he has yet to find his “new normal.” He hopes to start integrating himself more into the community, both professionally and out on the golf course when the weather gets better.
“It’s getting more and more fun every single day,” he said.