After 38 years as a volunteer firefighter with Cannon Beach Fire and Rescue, Lt. Jim Osburn has decided it’s time to retire.

Osburn, who moved to Cannon Beach in 1973, joined the department two years later.

“I never really had any childhood dreams about riding on the back of a firetruck,” he said. “I was just the new guy in town, and some of the local guys in the department kept egging me on to join. It’s kind of the same way we recruit new guys now, by badgering them until they give in.”

Osburn soon discovered he liked the excitement and newness of being a firefighter. He also grew to understand the larger meaning of what it meant to be in an all-volunteer department in a small community.

“When I was 21, it was definitely about the excitement, and I loved doing it,” Osburn said. “As I got older, I realized it was more about giving people help in a time of need and providing service for a small community.”

As time went by, Osburn was drawn to other aspects of being a firefighter, finding that there was much more to his duties than what he called “putting water on a fire.”

To that end, he began to pursue medical training, going to school for Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training.

“I don’t really know why I became interested. It might be genetics, I’m not sure,” Osburn said. “My father illustrated medical books, and I often helped him with the layouts as a kid. I found out I wasn’t squeamish.”

Osburn saw training department requirements and offerings change dramatically over the years, something he thinks made him a better member of the department.

“Most requirement processes are very lengthy now,” he said. “All-volunteer departments have to maintain the same level of training as full-time professional departments.”

He cited the formation of the high angle rescue team and the surf rescue team as signs that firefighting was swiftly adapting to its surroundings.

“That has helped our department create some very exceptionally skilled individuals here,” he said.

Osburn recognized that balancing civilian life with volunteer firefighting was a challenge, something he said that is “not for everyone,” due to the time commitment involved. Having owned and operated his family business Osburn’s Ice Cream and Espresso for 35 years, he understands that finding time for both can prove difficult.

“The department is willing to train you and invest money in you, but you have to understand the enormous commitment,” he said. “That’s the first thing they impress on any new volunteer.”

Many of Osburn’s moments on the department were made memorable for their sadness. This is especially true in a small town where an emergency call could take him to a neighbor’s house.

“Many calls ended very happily,” he said. “But many were very tragic. Those are the ones that carry a heavy emotional strain in a place where most people know each other and have for many years.”

As he considered retirement, Osburn began to realize that while the spirit was willing, the body was not. The physicality required of being on the department had begun to take its toll.

He also saw that by hanging on, he might be denying younger volunteers the chance to advance in rank.

“There’s an enormous physical aspect that’s a lot easier at 21 than at almost 60,” he said. “It was a hard decision, but I realized that there were a lot of young, eager volunteers ready to move up, and I thought I’d be holding them up. That made the decision a lot easier.”

Now, Osburn is gearing up for another summer at his ice cream shop and thinking about how he can remain involved in the department without having to be on the front line.

“There’s been some serious talk between some of us retired firefighters about forming an auxiliary in town,” he said. “Many of us still have the desire to help our friends and our community.”

Most of all, Osburn cherishes the relationships and lasting friendships he forged over the last 38 years, citing a bond of shared experiences that is often not found in other vocations.

“Great friends, great comrades,” he said. “We shared so many huge ups and downs that it brought us closer together. It’s a rare bond.”

Lt. Matt Gardner, fire district training officer and fire marshal, was sad to see Osburn go, but said he had benefited from serving with him.

“Lt. Osburn was great to work with,” Gardner said. “Always positive, always relaxed. A great attitude and a very caring individual.”

Osburn said the new wave of young volunteers and improved training has left the Cannon Beach department in good hands.

Still, he has one regret for the next generation of firefighters.

“I’m just sorry they’ll never get to ride on the back of a firetruck like I did when I was young,” he said. “They don’t let you do that anymore.”


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