Wyden, Bonamici visit Oak Hills fire station on Labor Day
The crew at the Oak Hills station of Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue in northeast Washington County greeted a couple of visitors on their way back to Washington, D.C.
U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, whose 1st District includes Washington County, and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden said their stopovers were a reminder that many people work on Labor Day, which honors workers.
"We know there are so many people who are working on Labor Day," Bonamici, a Democrat from Beaverton, said. "This is a way to say thank you to all of our first responders."
It was just one year ago, while on a visit to a Tigard station of TVF&R, that Bonamici and others observed smoke wafting from the southeast. It was the Clackamas County outgrowth of the Beachie Creek wildfire, which emerged as one of the devastating 2020 Labor Day wildfires throughout Oregon, along with the Riverside fire that started up the next day.
TVF&R, which extends from Washington County into Multnomah, Clackamas and Yamhill counties, eventually was called in to deal with the Chehalem Mountain-Bald Peak wildfire straddling Washington and Yamhill counties.
While the air on this Labor Day was relatively smoke-free, Wyden said, "That sure wasn't the case, even in the metro area, for much of the last few months."
Wyden said future federal budgets, starting with the 2022 plan that Congress will fill in with details as members return from Labor Day, will assume that no single state will have the people and equipment to cope with wildfires in an era of multiple blazes around the country.
"It's not just Labor Day when we honor you," he said. "We honor you every day. In our book, you never come in second.
"You are the definition of essential workers and you make us grateful every single day."
Wyden was accompanied by his 13-year-old son, William.
Among the TVF&R firefighters present were state Rep. Dacia Grayber, who was elected to the open House District 35 seat last year; Lt. Emily Van Meter, a training officer, and Lt. Karen Bureker, who in mid-September will become the first female captain at TVF&R.
Van Meter described details of the two fire camps run by TVF&R and Portland Fire & Rescue this summer. TVF&R had its camp July 30 to Aug. 1 at its training center in Sherwood; the camp attracted women from as far away as Michigan.
Bonamici sits on the House Education and Labor Committee, which with its Senate counterpart this year finally won congressional approval of an updated Apprenticeship Act, which hadn't been changed significantly since its original passage in 1937.
"I'm always looking at opportunities to help diversify our workforce and make sure these important jobs are available to those who traditionally may have been left behind," Bonamici said.
"I'm glad to hear about this wonderful program that you are working on here that is really exciting, and that young women from across the country have not only the opportunity to learn more about a career, but the value of first responder firefighters."
Bureker said the minimum requirements are for people to be age 18, hold a driver's license and a high school diploma or its equivalent, complete basic emergency medical training and take the required tests.
In addition, Lt. Nick Zarfas said most community colleges offer introductory courses in fire science — and community colleges often draw older students looking at other careers.
"We like to hire people who have life experience," Zarfas said. "The classes in community college give you a feel about whether you like it or not."
Wyden said he, too, had questions about firefighter requirements because many people have said they are willing to explore new careers during the coronavirus pandemic, which has run 18 months now.
About 80% to 85% of calls to fire agencies these days are medical-related.
Congress is still working on legislation to ban asbestos — a heat-resistant material used in flame retardants that also causes cancer — and curb perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs) used in waterproof jackets.
"We want you to be as safe as possible while you are out there working for all of us," Bonamici said.
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