One sunny evening in mid-July, a large fire burned a home in North Plains. Flames and smoke poured from the building, sending a black cloud into the sky and sparking fear the blaze would spread to neighboring houses along Northwest 313th Avenue.
Four minutes after the first call, a fire crew from the North Plains station arrived. A second crew from Hillsboro arrived shortly thereafter, and the fire was contained to the initial home.
Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue points to this incident as a perfect example of how recent upgrades have made North Plains a safer community: a four-person fire crew is able to enter a burning building without waiting for backup, while a smaller crew could only fight the exterior of the fire until more firefighters arrived.
North Plains residents will have a chance to see the inside of their local firehouse on Saturday, Aug. 12, the second of two open houses aimed at giving locals a better perspective on how TVF&R protects their communities.
TVF&R assumed full control of Washington County Fire District No. 2 stations at the beginning of July. Since then, the North Plains and Midway stations have seen increased staffing, including a paramedic on every shift, and improved training.
"Each shift has doubled with the actual amount of firefighters that are stationed here and there are so many more resources surrounding us to provide backup that weren't set up the same way as it is now," said firefighter Mike McBride, a graduate of Hillsboro's Liberty High School. "Pretty much in every aspect, coverage has grown."
The Midway station, or TVF&R Station 19, held its own open house Aug. 5.
Early in the afternoon, 9-year-old Connair was in the midst of a junior firefighter obstacle course laid out on the firehouse floor. He crawled through a series of tunnels to 'rescue' a teddy bear, pounded a block of wood into position and raced to hit a brightly-painted target with water from a fire hose.
He then helped two younger cousins clad in tiny firefighter gear carry water from one bucket to another, using pails. With the challenge complete, the three cousins tumbled over each other to share their highlights from the course.
Adeline, 3, liked the fire truck. The red one.
Connair, Adeline and Alivia, 5, all enjoyed the fire hose. Adeline punctuated her opinion by hopping with excitement, her black and yellow fire jacket coat dangling near her knees.
Adeline and Alivia's father, Aaron Marsh, looked on in amusement. His family lives in the hills near Bald Peak Scenic Viewpoint and the Midway station serves their area.
Marsh said he hasn't seen an immediate change in the way TVF&R has protected the area, but also hasn't needed to call for help. Still, an increase in taxes — former District No. 2 residents will see a tax hike of 41 cents per $1,000 in assessed value — to cover the expansions are worth the cost, he said.
The open house, which drew about 200 people to the Midway station, was also a chance to educate residents on fire safety, Myers said. Firefighters talked to visitors about the challenges of getting enough water to fight rural fires, and the advantages of expanded staffing on medical calls.
The North Plains open house will include the TVF&R safety house, a tool firefighters can use to educate kids and parents on smoke detectors, how to get out of a smoke-filled house safely and other fire-related lessons.
North Plains Mayor Teri Lenahan said the safety house is one of the aspects she's looking forward to the most — a chance to educate the whole family at once.
The open house coincides with the 20th annual Elephant Garlic Festival and the doors will open just as the parade wraps up at 11 a.m.
Myers said the firehouse should be able to handle the expected crowd in North Plains.
"Lots of kids are interested in the fire engine," he said. "It's so fun to give them such a unique opportunity, and you can see it in their faces. It's just so rewarding — they're having a great time being in the fire engine. Doing some of those things are what some kids dream of. Making that dream come true is the best part."