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Decades fighting fire

by: ISABEL GAUTSCHI - As Lt. Tom Deeter prepares to retire, he shares some stories from his 30 years fighting fire.After 30 years as a firefighter, you come away with some pretty good stories.

There’s that one time, about 10 years ago, when Deeter was part of Estacada’s former water rescue team.

A father and son had found themselves in a terrible predicament when their drift boat got caught on a rock in the Clackamas rapids.

When Deeter, Bob Morrisey (who is now Estacada’s fire chief) and another firefighter responded to the scene, they could see water flooding into the drift boat.

The firefighters had quite a job, negotiating the rescue boat through the rocks to reach the stranded father and son.

“Bob (Morrisey) put that boat in a place I never thought he could ever put it,” Deeter remembered and described how he and the other firefighter each took a side of the boat warning Morrisey of rocks in their way.

Deeter refers to the incident as one of the most exciting things he has ever done.

Or there’s that time when Deeter was one of the first responders to a horrible wreck on Fall Creek Road.

When he arrived on the scene, a car was upside down in the bushes.

Two people had been thrown from the vehicle, one man was still trapped inside.

“When I first found him in that car, I didn’t think he was going to make it and he did,” Deeter said.

He and a volunteer extricated the man from the vehicle. Life Flight air-lifted him to a hospital.

And he made a full recovery.

Deeter had lunch with him and his family once his health was restored and he still runs into him every now and then.

“Knowing you can make a difference in someone’s life in a positive way, in that respect it’s been a very rewarding career,” Deeter said. “Any firefighter will tell you this is the best career.”

Deeter speaks modestly of literally bringing people back from the brink of death.

On six occasions over the course of his career, Deeter was part of a team that resuscitated patients whose hearts had stopped beating.

Deeter quietly describes the extraordinary feeling of saving someone’s life. There is nothing else quite like it.

“I think a lot of people’s typical image of a firefighter is kicked back in a recliner waiting for the bell to ring. In Estacada, that’s not the case,” Deeter said.

It doesn’t even take five minutes with Deeter to be convinced.

In this small department, everyone has a task at all times. There is no reclining, and it’s even hard to find the time for a dinner break, when everyone works to maintain the building and equipment during “down time.”

In addition, fire department personnel and volunteers are usually the first responders to medical emergencies in Estacada.

Deeter estimates that 75 percent of the calls to the department are medical in nature.

But as an Estacada firefighter, one has to be prepared for anything.

“You come to work in the morning, you don’t know what you’re going to be called on (for)... You kind of have to be ready for everything,” Deeter explained.

Maybe it’s a small house fire, maybe wild land brush went up in flames. Just recently, Deeter helped rescue some women who got stuck down a steep embankment.

“I didn’t get any cats out of trees, but I did rescue a cat out of a chimney one time,” Deeter said.

After graduating high school, Deeter considered becoming an auto mechanic but it didn’t quite pan out. When he saw an ad for volunteer firefighters, he took the test and was brought on to the North Bend fire district.

He must have liked it, he stayed in the business for 30 years.

During his time in Bend, Deeter got his EMT Intermediate certification and worked as a career firefighter there for more than a decade.

Then, in November 2000, he came to Estacada.

Now, 13 years later, Deeter is retiring.

He plans to spend more time on his snowmobile and boat and to enjoy his new home in La Pine with his wife.

But his retirement is bittersweet.

Deeter said he will miss the firefighter brotherhood. After fighting fire for so long, retirement will be an adjustment.

As for Estacada, Deeter has these parting words: “I’d like to thank the community of Estacada for the opportunity to serve them and work for them. And they know this, but they have a very dedicated group of people here that work for them and will continue to do what Estacada Fire does.”




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