Aurora fire chief calling it a career
After more than 30 years of serving in the role, Aurora Fire District Chief Rod Yoder is retiring this year. The district is currently seeking applications for the new chief, which will replace Yoder sometime this year.
The Special Districts Association of Oregon will be leading the recruitment and hiring process for the new chief, who will be a full-time employee leading the combination volunteer/career department.
Yoder, who has been the district's chief since 1985, will continue working as chief until his replacement is found. He said the goal is to have a new chief by May, but no later than July, since Yoder won't be able to work past that month.
Yoder started out as a volunteer firefighter with the district in 1975, back when he still had a day job working on his family's multigenerational farm growing onion sets.
Yoder's family has lived in the Aurora area for well over a century, and both his father and grandfather were farmers and volunteer firefighters.
"My grandad was a volunteer with the fire brigade in Aurora, and then my dad joined the fire department in 1948 when the district was formed. And he put in 62 years as a firefighter for us," Yoder said.
"Many of my family members were involved in it," Yoder said, adding that even now many of his family members are firefighters. "My brothers, my sons, nieces and nephews are still involved in it."
When Yoder joined the district, it had an all-volunteer team that responded to fewer than 100 calls a year. Many of the volunteers had full-time jobs, and they didn't have to go through much training before they were sent out on fire calls.
"Within a week you were responding on the rigs as one of the volunteers," Yoder said.
That stands in contrast to the district now. In 2017, the district responded to more than 1,200 calls, Yoder said. Volunteers undergo months of training before they respond to calls. And now, almost 80 percent of the calls the district responds to are medical calls, not fire calls. Back when Yoder became a firefighter, the district didn't respond to medical calls at all.
"It's come a long way as far as the responsibilities and time it takes for our volunteers," Yoder said.
Though the district has changed a lot during his career, Yoder said one thing's been a constant: Being a firefighter is a way to serve his community.
"Just being part of the community and helping those when they're in a time of need has been the reward," Yoder said. "Obviously with a small department that's mostly volunteer, you're actually serving the people you live with in the community, so you know them personally."
Yoder said that doesn't come without its challenges.
"At times it can be sad because some of the calls you go on are people you actually know quite well," Yoder said. "Some firefighters, if they're working in a large metropolitan area, might not know the people when they're going out on the calls. In our small communities … you do contact the people that you know personally. Lots of times those are sad situations."
Though not every call has a good outcome, Yoder said the calls that have good outcomes make it all worth it.
"When you're helping them and things turn out good, it's very rewarding just helping your neighbor," Yoder said. "I think that's the most rewarding part for any of our volunteers, just being able to help our neighbors."
Now that he's retiring, Yoder said he'll be focusing on his many hobbies, which include working on his collection of old cars and traveling by mobile home with his wife, who is also retiring this year.
"We'll have lots to keep us busy," Yoder said.
Yoder said the Special Districts Association has set a high standard when outlining the desired qualities of the new chief. Specifically, the district will be looking for a chief who can manage the combination department, which has volunteer and career firefighters working together.
Yoder said in the future, the district will likely need to hire more career firefighters to support the volunteer team. "We will probably need to look to our citizens to help us staff more," Yoder said. Currently, the district has four career firefighters and about 20 volunteers.
To that end, the district is seeking a chief who has experience working in combination fire departments, has five years of fire command experience, and has a bachelor's or associate degree in public administration, fire science, fire administration or a field of emergency response, among other requirements. For more information go to www.aurorafire.org.