Volunteers all heart in backing up Fire District
Last updated 1/3/2023 at Noon
With such a large territory to cover, the Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District may appear to employ a larger force than it actually does. There are a total of 15 paid staff, 13 full-time and two part-time. Nine are shift responders, plus the chief and deputy chief, each of whom are, of course, fully engaged in action as needed.
Your first question may be the same as mine: How can only nine frontline workers cover an area from Camp Sherman to Sisters to Squaw Creek? And do it 24/7/365? They can’t. It takes volunteers — a lot of them.
“Volunteer staff includes an average of 38 firefighter/EMS (six EMS-only), 37 Fire Corps, and eight resident volunteers,” said Julie Spor, executive assistant to the District.
Let’s break that down.
Resident volunteer: The District offers individuals 18 years and up the opportunity to apply for the Fire/EMS Resident Volunteer Program designed to promote knowledge of the basic operating principles of the fire and emergency medical services through day-to-day operations, hands-on experience, and actual classroom time. Resident volunteers are trained in the principles of firefighting, fire prevention, fire control, rescue, and emergency medical services.
Fire Corps: If you love helping people, but no longer think running into burning buildings or climbing into the back of an ambulance is your cup of tea, the Fire Corps program may be a perfect fit. Fire Corps volunteers provide compassionate support to victims of emergencies and support the firefighters by providing food and drinks during extended fire operations. Fire Corps volunteers also provide fire prevention, public education, and community service programs within the communities of Sisters and Camp Sherman.
The range of volunteers is impressive. Like Jeff Lake, 54, who lives in Camp Sherman and is employed in RV manufacturing as a regional account manager. I asked him why he volunteers, what’s in it for him:
“What motivated me was when a little over three years ago my 22-year-old son, Connor, went missing and we had 400-plus people and several planes looking for him. Sadly, he died by suicide on top of Cache Mountain. Feeling the ultimate emotion of hopelessness and overwhelmed with all the help from my community, I was asked about being a volunteer.
“I had to say yes. I’ve learned in life these key things that have been taught to me by mentors — be kind to others, the one who forgives first wins, and find a way to be of love and service. I love the sense of brotherhood and the support and love from other people from the department. I travel a lot and get peace of mind knowing I have other firefighters that would help my wife/daughter at a moment’s notice if needed when I’m out of town.”
I don’t know about you, but if I had an emergency I’d be darned grateful if Lake was there.
Ben Duda, 47, is another skilled volunteer, typical of them all in many ways. He’s in his fifth year of volunteering for the District in a captain’s role both as firefighter and EMT. His day job is unit forester for the Oregon Department of Forestry Prineville-Sisters District.
“I worked with Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire for years in my ODF role and my office used to be next door to the main station there,” he said. “I really got to know the agency and the culture they have built within themselves and in the community.
“Watching them roll out the door from my office window for years before ODF moved out to the current Highway 126 location left me wondering what I could do to help. It wasn’t long after that Chief Craig heard that my family and I had moved closer to town he started luring me over with coffee and encouraging me to sign up.
So it’s really two reasons for me. One from the heart. A desire to be able to help, to know what to do on someone’s worst day. And two, professionally as a wildland fire manager, I wanted to learn more about the structural fire and EMS perspectives. It was the spring after the Millie Fire and the California 2017 Thomas Fire, which I was sent to as part of an ODF taskforce, I signed up as a volunteer in Sisters. I was later sent to the Camp Fire in the fall of 2018, which destroyed much of Paradise, California, and I’m finding my ‘dual discipline’ training to be very helpful.”
Duda had this response when I asked him what is the most rewarding part of his service: “Training new volunteers is the greatest. Especially when you see the moment something clicks for a recruit after being frustrated with a task and they nail it. That’s magical for me. Volunteers pour their hearts and their time into serving their community with the Department and it’s hard to put into words what it feels like to be a part of that. It’s such an incredible team and uplifting culture that’s been built here in Sisters.”
There are three rotating shifts in the District for paid staff — A, B, and C. Each is a period of 48 hours on and 96 hours off. The average tenure for paid personnel is 9.8 years, and all nine full-time first responders can perform either firefighting or EMS roles. That’s reassuring.
Want to volunteer? Karla Cross-Green is the recruitment and retention coordinator and can be reached at 541-549-0771.