State Fire Marshal Jim Walker received the Partnership Award for the agency’s help in providing task force assistance during the Milli Fire. photo by Jim Cornelius
Sisters firefighters/EMTs honored
Fire Chief Roger Johnson handed out a bevy of awards at last week's Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District awards banquet, held at FivePine Lodge & Conference Center on Friday evening, March 2.
The awards offer a window into the degree of dedication that exists within the local District - from student firefighters to volunteers to career firefighters and EMTs. They also reveal a tight-knit crew that truly meets the definition of a word that was used often through the evening: "family."
One of the most extraordinary moments of the evening came with the Life-Saving Award. In this case, the life saved was one of their own: Captain Thornton Brown, who was injured in a climbing accident in California last year (see "Fire captain on other end of rescue," The Nugget, April 26, 2017 - link available with online version of this story).
Fire medic Matt Millar and Captain Jeff Liming applied their professional knowledge and cool under pressure to ensure a positive outcome when Brown lost control of his rappel on a descent into a canyon, smashing his heels when he came to an abrupt and painful stop.
Brown recounted the adventure at the banquet, showing a video of his rescue by helicopter out of the bottom of the canyon. After a long rehab, Brown returned to full duty.
"I'd like to thank publicly Jeff and Matt for all they did," Brown told the assemblage. "I couldn't have better brothers within the fire service - or anywhere."
Dave Moyer was recognized for an extraordinary 45 years of service as a volunteer. Moyer, who lives across the street from the fire hall, was often the first man on an engine back in the pioneering days of the Sisters fire serve, and he's stuck with it through to the creation of the professionally staffed, well-equipped service it is today.
Jeff Liming was named Volunteer of the Year, and he invoked the sensibility that was so often expressed in the room: "Thank you for letting me be part of your family."
Rachelle Bieler received both the Rookie of the Year Award and Resident Volunteer of the Year honors, reflecting her passion for the fire service, her dedication to training and education and her extraordinary level of participation in the District's multitude of community service projects and events.
Christi Davis was honored for firefighter fitness, and Larry Stuker was honored as Fire Corps Volunteer of the Year for his efforts in distributing automatic external defibrillators through the District.
Though his tone in presenting the award was humorous, what Chief Johnson noted is a fact: "Sisters is one of the safest places to have a heart attack today in America - thanks to Larry!"
The Fire Corps as a whole received the Chief's Award for Excellence for their outreach work in the community, which includes smoke-alarm installation, blood pressure clinics and more.
Noting that 75 to 80 percent of the District's calls are for medical assistance, Chief Johnson presented the EMT of the Year Award to Rita Hodge for her exceptional dedication to providing life-saving service under pressure.
Travis Bootes deployed twice to California as part of Oregon strike teams sent to aid in the battle against catastrophic wildfires in that state. His dedication earned him honors as Volunteer Firefighter of the Year. Cody Meredith was recognized for his leadership and continuing efforts and example that make everyone around him better, as Career Firefighter of the Year.
While the individuals singled out for honors clearly earned the recognition - which comes from their peers - they are all quick to recognize that they are part of a team - indeed, a family.
Keynote speaker State Fire Marshal Jim Walker noted that one of the distinguishing qualities of the personnel of the Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District is their humility.
"They do incredible things," he said. "And they do it on a daily basis."
2017 was a challenging year for the Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District.
A harsh winter burdened the District as heavily as everyone else in Sisters. It cost $6,400 just to keep the fire stations cleared of snow so that emergency response wouldn't be delayed. And the snow and ice damaged Sisters Fire Hall to the tune of $200,000. District personnel put considerable work into planning and preparing for the potential of catastrophic floods, had heavy rain fallen on the massive snow load. Fortunately, that didn't happen, and flooding was minimal.
Winter was just the start of a wild season, the travails and triumphs of which were recounted during the Sisters Fire District's annual awards banquet, held at FivePine Lodge & Conference Center on Friday, March 2.
Like other agencies across the region, the Sisters Fire District put in significant planning and mobilization for an anticipated influx of thousands of people to view a total eclipse - an event that was expected to stretch emergency response to the breaking point. The fact that the strain didn't materialize didn't change the fact that District personnel had to work to get ready.
Instead of an "eclipsolypse," the District got what Deputy Chief Tim Craig called "a massive uptick in structure fires" that required response - including coming to the aid of Cloverdale Fire District in battling a fire in a 22,000-square-foot home east of Sisters - believed to be the largest structure fire of the year in Oregon.
Then Mother Nature handed the District a whole other plate full of problems, in the form of wildfire.
Chief Craig noted that the District participated in multi-agency drills before the wildfire season got underway - critical to coordinated and effective response.
"We learn each others' names long before the smoke hits the woods," he said.
When the smoke did hit the woods, Sisters Fire was required to mobilize for weeks of structure protection duty during the Milli Fire, where some 600 residents were evacuated from Crossroads and the Edgington Roads neighborhoods.
The District's fire season lasted well beyond our own. Having received the benefit of multiple departments - including some from out-of-state sending engines and crews to Sisters during the Milli Fire, Sisters reciprocated by deploying engines and crews to other fires, from the Columbia Gorge to California, where massive, catastrophic wildfires tormented the state.
Sisters fire crews served their neighbors admirably in a fire season that extended into December.
"We sent 15 strike teams down there," said keynote speaker State Fire Marshal Jim Walker. "Your firefighters went to California and they represented you and the state very well."
In his remarks, Walker noted that Sisters has "an incredible volunteer program." Sisters has more than 40 volunteers in harness, and an active Fire Corps that offers classes, installs smoke alarms and conducts community blood pressure clinics.
"The rest of the state is really struggling to attract volunteers," Walker said.
Fire Chief Roger Johnson presented a slate of awards to firefighters, volunteers and EMTs (see story, page 29). He started with the Partnership Award, presented to Walker and the State Fire Marshal's Office in honor of the support they provided during the Milli Fire.
When the District requested assistance in the face of a fast-moving blaze that was forcing evacuations, "it was amazing how fast they had people rolling into Sisters."
Chief Johnson presented Walker with a special plaque made of locally sourced wood, with the upper rim depicting the skyline of the Three Sisters. The centerpiece was a chromed head of a Pulaski (a firefighting mattock/ax) that was used on the Milli Fire.
Both Chief Johnson and Fire Marshal Walker noted how critical interagency relationships and partnerships are to providing effective and efficient public safety.