People and relationships he's formed are what he'll miss most

by: RAY PITZ - Capt. Dan Atkisson is retiring after 43 years as a firefighter; the last 15 spent at Sherwood Station No. 33.When Capt. Dan Atkisson responds to his last shift at Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue Sherwood Station No. 33 at the end of next month, it will be with the knowledge that he’s leaving behind a community he’s loved serving for the last 15 years.

On Jan. 31, Atkisson hangs up his turnouts after a 43-year firefighting career, in a profession he earned to be a part of even at the tender age of 11 years old as a youngster growing up in the Clackamas area.

Now 59, Atkisson officially started his career in 1970 as a” sleeper” for what was then Clackamas County Fire District No. 56 in 1970.

“I got hired at the age of 20,” he said. “I was the youngest firefighter they had at the time.”

He would go on work for Washington County Fire District No. 1 in 1974, an agency that would merge with the Tualatin Rural Fire Protection District (and later the Beaverton Fire Department) to form the current Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue.

Over the years, Atkisson has seen many changes in protocols, procedures and technology, acknowledging what was once standard practice would be frown upon today.

“When I first got into the fire service, we were riding off the back of the tailboard,” said Atkisson, recalling the days when firefighters would hang on to the back of the fire engine with no safety restraints.

When Atkisson worked at the former Washington County Fire District No. 1 station on 185th Avenue, now home to the Aloha Tavern, fire department ambulances ferried patients to the hospital, something that is now undertaken by private ambulance companies.

Technology in the early days was low-tech as well with firefighters in the cab only able to hear communications between their commanding officers or fellow firefighters through a tinny-sounding speaker.

“Now we’ve got headsets where it’s two-way communication,” Atkisson said.

Other technology advances include the ability to alert crews about the type of call they’re headed to, a GPS map to show where they’re headed and often a contact person they need to talk with once they arrive (which is beneficial if they’re headed to a commercial or retail building after hours). Today, there’s even a high-tech security system in place at many businesses that allows firefighters entrance into buildings instead of using what used to be a universal key — an ax or sledge hammer.

Atkisson said he has loved serving at the Sherwood Station No. 33, which has the distinction of covering the largest response area in the entire fire district, because of the relationships he’s formed in the community over the SUBMITTED PHOTO  - Capt. Dan Atkisson

“This is a great match for me. This station. This community,” Atkisson said during a recent interview. “It was a great match because I’m a good relationship person.”

While at the station for this interview, the crew on shift — which along with Atkisson included firefighters Alejo Jaureguizar, Steve Stoddard and Keith Peterson — were tapped out on three medical calls, one right after another.

And while 80 to 85 percent of the calls firefighters in the district respond to involve medical responses, that doesn’t always hold true. In less than two weeks in early December, Station 33 firefighters were called out to four fires (two of them separate barn fires). Then with the cold weather came a spat of calls for damage cause by frozen water pipes.

One of the strong relationships Atkisson has formed over the years is with the Sherwood Police Department. Atkisson said once a year he makes sure that there’s an annual luncheon with the mayor and other city officials and departments represented just to get to know one another. Sherwood Station No. 33 also reaches out to the broader community holding an annual community services fair that attracts more than 800 people.

Not surprisingly, Atkisson said residents consider Sherwood their personal fire station.

“Look at the fun things this town offers,” he said, pointing out that such events as the annual Santa rides provided aboard a real fire engine, the annual Winter Festival and Tree Lighting, and the Robin Hood Festival and parade are all examples.

So what will Atkisson miss most about working?

Well, there will be the hustle and bustle of a shift where firefighters work for 24 hours on and 48 hours off in a profession where life assumes a certain rhythm that wreaks havoc on a person’s biological clock.

“You definitely don’t sleep as well at the fire station because you’re always alert,” Atkisson pointed out.

But in the end, it’s the people he’ll miss most.

“One of the unique things about firefighting is you develop a second family,” he said, pointing out he’ll truly miss the dedicated career firefighters and volunteers he’s worked with over the years.

“And I really am going to miss some of the city staff who really care about the community,” he said.

by: COURTESY OF DARCI VANDENHOEK/BLUELINE STUDIOS - Capt. Dan Atkisson couldn't attend the Sherwood Chamber of Commerce dinner last summer, but attendess showed their appreciation for him by holding up placareds that spelled out, 'THANK YOU CAPT DAN.'While he has no concrete plans regarding his retirement, Atkisson said he might pursue several ministry opportunities in the church that he attends.

One thing is for certain: He has no plans of slowing down.

“If you stop, you drop,” he said. “I’m sure I’m not the stay-at-home type of guy.”

Whatever he does, he said it would have to be something that is fulfilling.

“I’ll find another career, but it will have to be something that makes a difference in other people’s lives for me to be satisfied,” said Atkisson

Atkisson said he doesn’t know who his successor will be but expects it will be someone who loves and cares about the Sherwood community as much as he does. He has always taken the advice of a previous chief who emphasized the following: At the end of a tragedy or fire, the only thing people remember is how you treated them.

And that’s what his goal has always been - to leave a person involved in an emergency situation in a better place than he or she had been before, trying to live up to the district’s motto of not treating people like numbers but treating them as family.

Firefighter Peterson said Atkisson’s departure would be felt by everyone from the clerks he knows at the local grocery stores to members of the Robin Hood Festival Association. “I’m going to miss him, and I think the community is going to miss him a lot,” said Peterson.

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