Community dedication burns within Estacada firefighters
Kasi Borges-Silva and her caretaker, Michelle, were admiring fire trucks in Estacada when two firefighters invited Kasi to go for a ride.
Michelle noted that Kasi, who has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, emotional behavioral disorder, epilepsy, OCD and ADHD, loves the emergency response vehicles and reacts with delight when she sees or hears them.
While firefighter Brooke Gramer drove the rig, Kasi happily squealed at the top of her lungs for the duration of the ride and often excitedly took the hand of firefighter Chris James.
Her mother later noted that her enthusiasm for the experience was all she talked about for several hours afterward.
People might often associate firefighters with putting out blazes, but Gramer and James say the moments that stand out most are when they're able to connect with others.
"Most firefighters won't tell hero stories," Gramer said. "It's more like the old lady pushing the Life Alert button, and we were able to put her back into bed and ask what we can do. (Sometimes they'll ask) 'Can you feed my cat?'"
They'd rather discuss these sort of calls than instances when they've responded to fires.
"Fires are hot, you can't see anything and you sweat a lot," James said.
"We don't like to see people lose things, and in house fires, people lose things," Gramer added.
Volunteers and career firefighters at the Estacada Rural Fire Department work 24 hour shifts. Along with responding to calls, they complete projects at the station, ensure that their gear and rigs are in good condition, write reports about the incidents they've responded to and work on many other tasks.
"Our days are filled with a lot of projects," James said. "As a smaller agency, we do everything a bigger agency does with fewer people."
Come dinnertime, members of the department often prepare a meal.
"We like to eat and cook together. It's a family feel. We all know who doesn't like (to eat) what," Gramer said.
James noted that chicken caesar wraps are one of their favorite meals to cook. If they need to pick up ingredients from the store, they drive a fire truck so they can respond to potential calls faster.
When it's time to turn in for the night, on-duty staff have a dormitory at the station where they sleep — assuming no calls come in.
"Sometimes you don't see your bed," James said.
Gramer added that they're used to responding to night calls.
Whether a call comes in during the day or in the middle of the night, firefighters strive to be en route to the incident within 90 seconds.
There's construction underway at the Estacada fire station, and once it's complete there will be several separate rooms with sleeping space rather than one room with multiple beds.
"I'm pretty excited to not hear people snore at night," Gramer said with a smile, discussing the new dormitories.
During the past fiscal year, the average number of calls Estacada firefighters received was four per shift: 44 percent of the time three career staff members were on duty; 22 percent of the time two career staff members were on duty and 34 percent of the time a volunteer and career staff member were on duty.
For several years, Estacada Fire has had an intergovernmental agreement with Clackamas Fire in which they receive training opportunities, command and control services, additional aid for fires and other incidents and the services of another battalion chief.
However, because Estacada's Board of Directors opted to not examine the possibility of merging the two districts in a feasibility study, which was requested by Clackamas Fire, the existing IGA is set to end in January.
Estacada Fire's Board of Directors will soon meet with a consultant to discuss the future of the district.
Without the IGA, Estacada would still receive a certain amount of response services from Clackamas through the mutual aid program.
"There are definitely some advantages to having the IGA, but our board is elected to give direction to the district. They're there to serve the citizens," James said. "Our main goal is to take care of people. The citizens have a way to do that — talk to the board."
He added that no longer having the agreement would "without a doubt" impact daily operations at the station, in terms of response times and number of responders at incidents.
Whatever the outcome, local firefighters are dedicated to continually serving the community.
Gramer noted that if they're returning from a call and see children, they'll often stop to give them an Estacada fire department sticker.
"The look on a little kid's face when you give them a sticker is priceless," she said. "That's something they'll remember."