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Columbia County residents take part in annual Oregon Fallen Firefighters Memorial Ceremony in Salem

COURTESY PHOTO - Sen. Betsy Johnson, Evelyn Hudson, U.S. Rep. Brad Witt, Mary Hales and Eva Hudson pose for a photo following the Fallen Firefighters Memorial Ceremony in Salem on Thursday, Sept. 19. Johnson presented Hales with a signed copy of a bill that was passed in the 2019 legislative session to allow the names of fallen firefighters to be included on roadside memorials. Every year on the third Thursday of September, elected officials, members of the firefighting community, friends and family all gather at the state capital to honor Oregon firefighters who have died in the line of duty.

The Fallen Firefighters Memorial Ceremony is held in Salem at the Oregon Public Safety Academy, where an inscribed wall stands in honor of those who have lost their lives.

Every year, the Hales and Hudson families from Columbia County travel to Salem to take part in the ceremony to honor their loved one — Robert Hales.

Robert Hales was a volunteer firefighter and EMT with the Scappoose Fire District when he suffered a heart attack following a long firefighting shift in 2008. His family honors his memory by attending the ceremony, but they are also actively helping other families remember other firefighters who have died.

Earlier this year, Evelyn Hudson, Robert Hales' aunt, advocated for a legislative change to allow the names of fallen firefighters to be included on roadside memorials.

Throughout the recently concluded legislative session, she also helped rally supporters of the bill to speak in the House and Senate on key voting days and encouraged the public to support the change.

The Oregon Department of Transportation approved roadside memorials to honor fallen members of the armed forces in 2013 and followed that action with an amendment in 2015 to include public safety officers. The bill allowing firefighters' names to be included will take effect Jan. 1.

This year, the gathering in Salem also included a special presentation by Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, who gave Mary Hales, Robert's wife, a signed copy of the bill.

Mary Hales said she was surprised to be part of the ceremony in that way since the change in the law wasn't about her.

"But I'm very glad that the bill passed and I was really just a little surprised," Mary Hales said. "If anyone should have been presented with it, it should have been Evelyn because she did so much work on it."

Hudson said she also was touched by the gesture at the ceremony.

"It was great. It was an honor. All we wanted to do was get the message out," Hudson said.

COURTESY PHOTO - Members of the Oregon Fire Service Honor Guard take part in the annual Fallen Firefighters Memorial Ceremony, which is held every year on the third Thursday of September. The event included several guest speakers, a roll call of honor, and a ceremony to honor those who have fallen. During this year's ceremony, Kimberly Lightley, a fire and aviation management specialist with the U.S. Forest Service, who also specializes in risk management, was a guest speaker for the event. Lightley survived the deadly 1994 South Canyon Fire that killed 14 firefighters, including nine of the Prineville Hotshots.

Mary Hales and Hudson both said they found her to be inspirational.

"It was very touching," Hudson said.

While the ceremony takes place annually, a granite memorial inscribed with the names of fallen firefighters stands year-round in Salem near the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training Public Safety Academy.

"I think it's hard to understand, until you actually see the names inscribed and touch a name that's familiar to you, how meaningful it is to have that," Mary Hales said.

She added that having roadside memorials will be a way for people to see the name of a loved one on a roadside near where they live, and not just memorialized in Salem, where it may be hard for some people to access.

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