Volunteers are an important part of re-launched Estacada Fire District, will serve along staff firefighters

COURTESY PHOTO: JENN KING - Volunteers at Estacada Fire work together during a training simulation earlier this year.

During the annual Estacada Fourth of July parade, people cheered and waved as multiple engines from the Estacada Fire District drove through the American flag lined streets.

"We had five or six (engines in the parade). Two stayed behind to be ready for calls, but all of the others went," said Estacada Fire District Volunteer Association President Jenn King, noting that each engine was full of volunteers and staff alike. "So many people (in the parade) held their hands up with a heart symbol and said thank you. People are very excited we were able to keep this (department) local."

Estacada voters said no to a proposed merger with Clackamas Fire in the November 2020 election. The potential merger came under criticism after the 140,000 acre Riverside Fire last fall, when many in Estacada felt that Clackamas Fire was hesitant to collaborate with local community members during the incident.

Under the contract for service, which began in January 2020, Clackamas Fire staffed the Estacada and George fire stations. Estacada had previously received some services from Clackamas starting in 2016. The most recent contract ended in June.

The Estacada Fire District has hired a fire chief, three lieutenants and six firefighters. Of these nine career positions, six are paramedics and three are EMTS, and one worked for Estacada fire prior to the contract for services with Clackamas. There are also plans to hire a deputy chief and a fire marshal.

Along with career staff, 19 volunteers graduated from Estacada's volunteer training academy in June. An additional training academy scheduled for this fall has a waiting list. Additionally, three of the six spots for the student firefighter program have already been filled.

As Estacada rebuilt it's local fire department, the transition committee, which consisted of Director John McAdoo, Director Ken Oliver, Battalion Chief Alan Lasbrook, Cheryl Lashbrook, Dick Youngberg, Tom Benschoter, Director Paul Miller, and King, wanted to be sure there was a role carved out for volunteers.

"It was a huge piece that we saw right away," said King. "We really wanted to create this new environment that catered to our volunteers."

The importance of staff and volunteers who were familiar with the local community became apparent to many who were involved with fighting the Riverside Fire, which came within half a mile of Estacada city limits. Many community members were ready to assist by providing equipment or battling the flames and hotspots.

"We really wanted people who are right there in the community who know a lot about it, so if there's an emergency they understand the resources that are here and what (those resources) would be able to do," King said. "We might be able to just pick up our phone because we already have them in our cell phone and say, 'hey, you've got a huge bulldozer, can you come over?'"

During a previous interview, Estacada Fire Chief Ian O'Connor said he's looking forward to establishing a positive and collaborative culture for volunteer and career firefighters.

"Typically, you come in and there's kind of already a culture established and if it's not right or not good, you have to correct those hurt feelings. We get to start fresh and set the tone. What we establish today is how people are going to look at it in 15 or 20 years," he said. "It's a nice spot to be in."

COURTESY PHOTO: JENN KING - Estacada Fire volunteers completed a four month training academy prior to the relaunch of the district.

Creating a team of volunteers

One of many tasks for the Estacada Fire District prior to re-establishing the department was to ensure that volunteers were trained and prepared prior to July 1, which was when the contract with Clackamas came to an end.

Members of the transition team reached out to previous Estacada Fire volunteers. Those who returned re-certified from the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training and helped lead Estacada's volunteer training academy. Leaders of the four month academy included Lieutenant Jeff Aldridge, Lieutenant Mike Platz, Lieutenant Brook Nelson, Firefighter Trystan Hall and Firefighter Mike Alderman.

On Wednesday, June 23, 19 participants graduated from the district's volunteer firefighter training academy, which ran from March through June.

Estacada plans to host an additional volunteer academy this fall. The program is already full and has a waitlist.

"I've been getting at least an application each day for the training academy. They've really been pouring in," said Cheryl Lashbrook, administrative manager for the Estacada Fire District.

"It was an incredible outpouring of the community saying they wanted to be involved. We have a doctor, we have a nurse's assistant, we have military backgrounds, we have people who've been in firefighting a long time," King added.

As president of the volunteer association, one of King's goals is to ensure that participants stay engaged with the department.

"Now we've got these endorphins going and everybody wants to do something big. And over time, we tend to see that (enthusiasm) starts to dull, so what our team is focused on is figuring out how to keep that passion going, and really keep that momentum," she said. "I'm trying to look to where we see ourselves in six months, and what it's going to take for us to stay engaged and to still meet that goal six months from now."

King appreciates the collaborative atmosphere at Estacada Fire.

"I don't feel like being president makes me in charge of this boat. I really feel like we've got such great talent here. Everyone's got a steering wheel," she said.

The collaboration between career firefighters and volunteers is another important focus for the district.

"If you look at everybody who's here doing this job, you won't be able to tell who's a volunteer and who's a staff (firefighter). We report the same, and we're all in it together to make the best service possible for the community," King said.

Both volunteers and career firefighters responded to the first call for the new Estacada Fire on July 1, which was the death of a community member.

"I really felt that on the first call, I really felt like everyone just fell into place. We let the leaders do what they do well, and then the leaders delegated responsibilities to (the new volunteers)," King said.

She noted that having a fire department with a local emphasis will be valuable for multiple generations in Estacada.

"I think (having the local) department is going to mean a lot, not just for our adults in this community," King said. "We're going to have a little bit more presence in the community with all of our volunteers that are here. Kids are going to see mom and Dad (volunteering)."

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