Fire district has a strong volunteer culture


Last updated 4/2/2024 at 11:45am

Photo provided

Kevin Cramer took a long and winding path to service as a volunteer firefighter with Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District.

Helping people in need - that's the fundamental mission and purpose of the men and women who volunteer with the Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District.

There are many different ways to help fulfill that mission - and many paths to becoming a volunteer.

"My journey with the fire service has been long," Firefighter Kevin Cramer told The Nugget last week. "It's got a lot of holes in it; it's not continuous."

As a young man, he was on a path toward the fire service in southern Missouri, but deviated from that course for marriage and a job in Chicago. He was living in Seattle when he decided he was pretty much done with corporate life, and he explored switching careers into the fire service. However, as he talked with friends in the field, he realized that the vast majority of calls in the fire service are medical - and that wasn't where his heart and interest lay.

"If it's all medical, that would be hard for me," he realized.

So he set the dream aside again. When he and his family moved to Sisters five years ago so that his daughter Tatum could attend Sisters High School, he saw the volunteer firefighters working at the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show.

"Here it is in my life again - different circumstances," he thought.

He met with Captain Jeff Liming to inquire about volunteering - and he's been at it ever since.

This spring, there is an opportunity for others to follow the desire to serve into volunteering with the Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District (SCSFD). The District is currently accepting applications for the upcoming Spring Volunteer Firefighter Academy, set to begin April 24. There is a particular need for volunteers for the Camp Sherman and Whychus Canyon Estates stations.

Christi Davis lives at the Camp Sherman station as she serves as a volunteer. Davis had been seeking to become a career firefighter.

"I have health conditions now that prevent me doing it full-time as a career," she explained.

Davis had her EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) license and still wanted to serve - so she volunteered. Being available in Camp Sherman makes her a critical resource for the District, especially in the winter.

"Being able to respond from Camp Sherman and be able to get to a patient in a more timely way" is valuable, she explained. With her background, she can provide information on a situation and "help the duty staff out and also establish patient care a little quicker."

There is always a valuable role to be played by volunteers responding to calls.

"There's always something to do," said Mike Terwilliger, who has been volunteering for five years. "Whether five people show up, or 15, there's always something to do."

Terwilliger got involved with Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District through his neighbor, Ben Duda, Sisters Unit Wildland Fire Supervisor with the Oregon Department of Forestry. Duda is also a volunteer firefighter with SCSFD. Duda urged Terwilliger to enter the fire service - and he did.

Terwilliger started out as a wildland firefighter (a job he continues to work each summer) and wasn't initially sure he was interested in structural firefighting. Turns out he loves it. He became a firefighter with SCSFD, and is soon to head off for an intensive training to earn his EMT certification.

He says he looks forward to being "able to be a little more participatory on medical calls."

One of the key aspects of volunteering with SCSFD is that each volunteer has plenty of space to find his or her areas of strength and interest. Terwilliger and Davis want to participate in medical care; Cramer does not. Each can find their role.

For Cramer, that means, among other duties, driving an ambulance. That's a critical need for the District, and frees up an EMT to be at work where he or she is most needed - in the back of the ambulance.

"Being an ambulance driver got me added value to the district, but it also keeps me in my comfort zone," Cramer said.

Finding that comfort zone can take time. Cramer remembers feeling pressure when he started the initial Academy training. Just getting into his gear and into the truck was a challenge, and he made mistakes. He told The Nugget that the staff at SCSFD was always encouraging, assuring him that he would catch on. And he did. But after he finished his initial training, he still felt less than fully ready psychologically. He didn't initially respond to calls "because I was scared," he said.

He started responding to clean-up details, an unglamorous but critical aspect of responding to calls. He started building his confidence, and started doing more. That's all part of the journey for many volunteers.

"You get those moments when you're challenged, and you're scared - and you get that affirmation," he said. "You start to find where you fit."

Terwilliger, who instructs at the Academy, affirms that the culture at SCSFD is all about teaching and learning and getting better incrementally over time.

"Everybody wants to see you succeed," he said.

Cramer says that there has to be a willingness to serve at the foundation. Then comes ability - what you have a knack for and are suited to do. Then there's capability.

"Capability comes through the department," he said. "They teach you how to do this stuff. They give you that capability through training."

It's a process, and no one is a world-beater right off the bat.

"I've been doing this for about five years, and it's only in the last year that I've felt comfortable doing everything. Give yourself time. And the department gives you time."

Volunteers have to determine for themselves how their service fits in with the other commitments in their life, like work and family.

Davis acknowledges that it's important to attend as many of the regular Tuesday evening trainings as possible so that if you're responding to a call you can be an asset and make a difference.

"I think it has to be more than an every-once-in-a-while hobby," she said.

Still, nobody expects volunteers to make it to everything. Davis works a full-time job.

"If you're at work, there's not an obligation to leave work," she noted.

Davis noted that volunteers also do a lot of community outreach activities.

"It feels really important to show up for those things," she said. "The impact you can have feels really meaningful."

Davis estimates that last year she went on about 25 or 30 calls. So far this year, she's been out on a handful.

Terwilliger concurred that there is flexibility built into the system. During the day, he's broadly available across the District. At night, he has his phone app set to respond only to calls for his Whychus Creek Canyon Estates neighborhood substation.

And volunteers can choose what types of calls they respond to.

"If a car accident isn't for you - don't go," he said.

All three of the volunteers The Nugget spoke with emphasized the sense of camaraderie and community they feel. Terwilliger noted that it's not just with SCSFD

- it also includes working with Cloverdale and Black Butte Ranch.

"That cluster of three is a really good group to be with," he said.

Davis loves her Camp Sherman outfit.

"The volunteers in Camp Sherman are awesome," she said. "The people out there are really great people to be around, outside of calls."

Whether a volunteer wants to stay at the basic level or advance volunteer service into a career, SCSFD provides the support and training appropriate to each volunteer's goals. There are multiple certifications offered to volunteers during their tenure with the District that include driving and operating fire engines, ambulances, and wildland firefighting trucks, CPR and first aid training, wildland firefighting qualifications, and many others.

Photo provided

Mike Terwilliger mans an apparatus in training with the Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District.

The 11-week academy begins April 22. It will host a combination of new volunteers for Sisters-Camp Sherman Rural Fire Protection, as well as Cloverdale Rural Fire Protection District. The academy will focus on hands-on training in multiple skills such as fire suppression, deploying ground ladders, hose deployment, structural search and rescue, property conservation/overhaul, vehicle extrication, ropes and knots, and many other integral skills that our firefighters need to understand. The academy also will focus on firefighter knowledge and skills that include topics such as firefighter safety, communications, building construction, hazmat awareness/operations, and fire dynamics.

Once recruits have completed the academy and earned their Firefighter 1 certification, they can begin responding to emergency calls with the department, as well as scheduling volunteer shifts to help with daily staffing.

For more information, contact Volunteer Coordinator Captain Jeff Liming at 541-549-0771.

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

Author photo

Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit


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