Always on call
Capt. Tessie Adams, Oregon's newly-minted Volunteer Firefighter of the Year, doesn't want to talk about her selfless dedication, her sacrifices or her 14 unpaid years spent serving Corbett's rural communities.
She wants to tell a story about being selfish.
It was 2008. A pouring-rain bad day was about to get a lot worse. Adams' horse, a pinto named Cheyenne — the animal she had "loved to death" for the last 15 years — had died.
The notion that a firefighter's workspace is the margin between life and death doesn't make loss less bitter.
"I was very, very upset, and a call came out in my district," Adams recalled. "And I said, 'Screw it. I'm not going to go. I'm sad. I'm pissed off. It's not my problem.'"
But it was her problem. A woman had collapsed on her own front porch, the victim of a severe asthma attack.
Though the call had originated out of Clackamas County, Adams was the closest first responder with enough medical training to administer epinephrine, a stimulant that kickstarts the heart and restores blood flow.
So Adams went out on the call. By the time she arrived, the woman had already stopped breathing. She dragged the woman off her porch and injected the medicine. The woman survived.
"I am selfish, in that I get something out of it," Adams, now 46, explained. "I feel like I've made a difference, and to me, that makes all the difference in the world."
Always on call
Fire Marshal Jim Walker named Adams Volunteer of the Year during the 59th-annual banquet of the Oregon Volunteer Firefighters Association, held Friday, June 16, in Lebanon.
Adams' technical title with Multnomah County Fire District 14 is EMS captain, with the acronym referring to emergency medical services.
Those medical emergencies — everything from day hikers with broken legs to people experiencing heart attacks — make up approximately 80 percent of the 911 calls arriving at Corbett Fire each day.
So besides her always-on-call status, Adams' job means she's responsible for training the 30 or 40 odd volunteer firefighters in the district, creating new curriculums and staying informed as best practices and medical procedures change.
Through December of last year, Adams led 10 volunteer firefighters through a 250-hour course designed to bump up their skill level as emergency medical technicians.
"You can teach people all of the EMS skills in the world, but if they can't function under pressure, those skills are great until you have to put them to use," she said.
Adams, who regularly teaches at Columbia Gorge Community College, could write a book on medical techniques for firefighters. But her preference is finding the first responder who can think creatively, and with common sense.
"I would rather have a practical person who knows the practical skills, than a book person any day," she continued.
In this case, the class had to be accredited through Mt. Hood Community College, but was taught at several fire stations to ease commute times for the volunteers from other fire departments in Estacada and Sandy.
Those first-line responders, including five in Corbett, can now administer intravenous medications and pain relievers, treat patients with diabetes, allergies or those suffering from critical heart problems.
Corbett Fire purchased an Auto Pulse, essentially a battery-powered CPR machine, in February. It was Capt. Adams who compared the models and manufacturers to find the best option, said Fire Chief Dave Flood.
"I just think the world of her," Flood said in a phone interview. "We're fortunate to have her up here, and when I say that, I don't just mean the fire department. The whole community is lucky."
Floods' words were echoed in a glowing recommendation letter by Troy Snelling, the president of Corbett's volunteer firefighter association.
"Tessie is not the type of teacher who simply teaches the theory in the classroom and does not put her knowledge to use at the emergency scene," Snelling wrote. "We are lucky to have Tessie as a member."
A Corbett resident since 1999, Tessie Adams lives just a half mile from Firehouse 63 off Southeast Gordon Creek Road.
Station 63 receives a fraction of the calls routed to Station 62, which is located on the Historic Columbia River Highway (across the street from the Corbett Country Market) and is far closer to where most Corbett residents actually live.
Despite Corbett's rural character, Adams recounted at least five calls that had occurred the previous day, including two car accidents, a stranded hiker and a brush fire.
"I always have my pager, and it always goes off," she remarked.
Adams shares her home with 10-year-old twins Kaylin and Chase, her wife, Lisa Erickson, plus two horses, Indigo and Amazing Grace.
Both are the direct descendants of Cheyenne, Adams' horse from a decade ago. Amazing Grace, who turned 1 on Wednesday, June 28, is Kaylin's responsibility.
But speaking of Cheyenne, there's one more story that Adams wants to tell. It's about the welcoming, second family she found in the Corbett Fire District.
"I was worried when I first joined, 'Oh god, how are they going to treat me, I'm a girl,'" she remembered. "But I have never felt excluded — not only for my sex, but for my sexual orientation.
"The worst thing that happens to me is I don't get to go (inside during) the fires, because I'm the paramedic and they want me on the outside," she continued. "It's been wonderful, and I'll stay here until I can't."