After more than 50 years as a completely volunteer-run fire district, Westport Fire & Rescue District hired its first paid staff.
Greg Brody, of Clatskanie, started Wednesday as assistant fire chief.
Keith Walling, Westport’s fire chief for the past 18 years, said the decision to hire a staff member is a big step.
“We were one of the last districts in the county to not have any paid staff and it’s been something we’ve needed for a while,” Walling said. “I’m excited to see where it can take us.”
As the assistant fire chief, Brody will run the day-to-day operations of the fire district and be a point of contact for vendors, contractors and outside agencies.
Although the position is only part time right now, Brody said his long-term goal is to find ways to creatively fund the position for more hours through federal grants or through partnerships with local industry.
Brody has been volunteering with the fire district since last February. He will continue to work as a full-time lieutenant paramedic for Columbia River Fire & Rescue in St. Helens, where he has served for the past 24 years.
Brody plans to retire from Columbia River Fire & Rescue next year and, until then, he will be at Westport during the week on his off days.
“Instead of being the guy that is putting the water on the fire out of the hose, I’m now having to make sure that fire truck has the proper maintenance and proper tests done to it to make sure it’s performing well,” Brody said.
“It’s just a lot more to think about than just what I’ve been doing my entire career as a firefighter,” he said. “It’s challenging to my mind and I enjoy that.”
Brody said Knappa Fire District’s chief, Kurt Donaldson, has been helpful in guiding him through the transition.
He also hopes to work more with the Georgia-Pacific Wauna Mill’s private fire department and share resources.
“We don’t spend a lot of time working together, but I’m hoping to change that. I’m hoping we can start doing some more training together,” Brody said.
Since joining the fire district as a volunteer, Brody said he has managed to get the district a new sport utility vehicle and a used fire engine from Portland.
Moving forward, he said the fire district is preparing to launch a new website and receive newer breathing apparatus and a newer brush truck from state surplus.
“It’s really tough to operate a fire department these days because people don’t have the time commitment they used to have, say 20 or 30 years ago,” Brody said. “More and more small departments are ending up having to hire people to do what was done by volunteers in the past.”