GOSHEN – It takes a village to be an effective firefighting operation. If a link in the chain breaks down, firefighters can risk losing everything – the property they’re trying to protect, the citizens who live there, their own personal health and well-being … heck, if they’re not careful, even an entire village can come crumbling down.
Fortunately, many of those local concerns can be put to rest now that the proposed Pleasant Hill Goshen Fire Department has come to fruition after a special election on Nov. 7. Although the results are not yet official, board member Paul Filson estimated that approximately 99.9% of the votes have been counted.
“The fire service is about teamwork,” said Filson, who was elected to one of the five board seats during the special election. “You can’t accomplish your task without teamwork. Whether it’s just within a fire engine with its crew, or whether it’s a first alarm with a whole bunch of crews, or whether it’s a conflagration where you have multiple jurisdictions of crews working together, you can’t accomplish your mission without teamwork.
“The two boards worked hard together and we had a vision along with the fire chief and his staff, to serve the citizens for decades to come – not just a two- or three-year plan – but for decades to come. We bit off a big chunk, and I think through the teamwork of going door-to-door, putting the signs out, getting on the radio, the newspaper, the TV … and using every avenue we could to accomplish this, we did it.”
Now that the election has been won, the real work can commence.
“This is just kicking off our projects,” Pleasant Hill Goshen Fire Chief Andrew Smith said. “After the official election results are announced, here are the things that are on the horizon for us:
Hopefully, we’ll break ground on the new fire station in Pleasant Hill, probably sometime in the summer. But that’s dependent on when we can get the funding, which will be announced by the Lane Cty Board of Commissioners.
“We can also begin the next stages of planning for the new station, and applying for funding that we’ve identified, and that goes right into the second need, which is hiring the staffing we need. Those are our big goals between now and next summer.”
The election results were delayed due to “suspicious mail” that was sent to the Lane County Elections office. A county official said the mail possibly contained a suspicious chemical and was sent to intimidate election workers.
Suspicious powders, including fentanyl, were identified in envelopes sent to election officials in Washington and Georgia, the Associated Press reported last Thursday.
“Statewide, it takes a long time to tally up everything,” Filson said, “but when you just have two jurisdictions within 20 miles of each other – we’ve got 99.9% of the ballots tallied. … Voter turnout was low – but we’re not disappointed, we went door-to-door, we probably hit 65 to 70% of the people. A lot of people have locked gates in a rural area, we were in homeowner associations, neighborhood watch groups, churches … we visited with a lot of people.
“Overall, it was close to a 60-40 split between the two jurisdictions in favor of making this happen. … But it shouldn’t be a hard sell when it comes to emergency services. We’re not selling a bill of goods here – there’s no money going into my pocket, it’s not going into anybody else’s pocket – it all goes back into the community.”
The passage of Measure No. 347 was dependent upon Measures 344 and 345 also passing. The latter two measures asked voters if they were in favor of dissolving the current fire stations in Pleasant Hill and Goshen so a new fire department can be built.
The dissolution in Pleasant Hill won by a percentage of 55.5-45.5; the dissolution in Goshen won by a margin of 64.3-35.7, and the proposed creation of the new Pleasant Hill Goshen department was a runaway choice, with a percentage of 59.3-40.7.
Todd Anderson was the leading vote-getter for the board of directors, followed by Kevin Flory, Rose Reinertson, Terry McDiarmid and Filson.
The importance of volunteerism
Right now, there are 33 volunteers and five full-time firefighters employed by the Pleasant Hill Goshen Fire Department. There’s a constant need for more volunteers, though.
“In fire districts in Oregon, volunteerism has been an issue in Oregon for quite a while,” Filson said. “The local people in the community are no longer filling those jobs, it’s young men and women who want to make a career out of the fire service. …There’s competition out there for who’s going to get these young men and women to be their volunteers. There’s no way a rural fire district can afford to have all paid personnel. It just won’t happen.”
Smith said the department is actively recruiting now for the spring academy. The deadline is Dec. 15, and Smith said he likes to have six volunteers each during the spring and fall academies.
“We thrive off of students.Those students are absolutely critical to the delivery of our service,” Smith said. “We mentor them and the unfortunate part about mentoring them, of course, is that they turn around and land jobs and get places. But in the meantime, our community can rest assured that they will get the service they need because of the dedication of all those individuals and the staff who prepare those individuals to provide that service.
“This effort has boosted what service will be available to the community through the course of the coming months as we continue to grow.”
Smith, 36, has been fire chief for six years. He started training for his career while still in high school.
“It’s more than a job, more than a career, it’s a lifestyle,” Smith said. “It’s a lifestyle a lot of people are still choosing.
“Anybody looking to train as a firefighter – after 2-3 years, you can be a firefighter, EMT, or some type of emergency service worker. There are plenty of options.”
Filson, 67, says the volunteerism aspect is one of his favorite aspects of the job.
“They need to provide for their family, and as long as we can provide them with the training for that or two- or three- or four-year period, it all comes back to teamwork – we’re mentoring them, we’re teaching them – so we can benefit, and they can benefit from it.
“We’re teaching them about character, integrity … just a good foundation for the future. They live and eat and sleep together 24-7, that’s what makes this such a fantastic career. I was sold on this stuff 40 years ago. It gets me excited, I wish I was young again.
“We’re like a foster family – we bring them in, we teach them, we mentor them, we love them, they’re part of the family, they grow up, then you have to let them go. Then you get another group in . … It’s a family away from your family.”