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A day in the life of an Estacada firefighter

by: ISABEL GAUTSCHI - Firefighter Trent Westenfelt gets suited up in less than a minute. Of course there is no typical day for a firefighter.

But for a few hours on a quiet shift the day after Thanksgiving, four firefighters spoke with the Estacada News about what it’s like day-to-day on the job.

Estacada career firefighters typically work 48-hour shifts, then take four days off.

There usually are four firefighters per shift.

“I see these guys more than I do my wife,” said an engineer who asked not to be named in the paper.

The firefighters sleep in a dormitory with curtains around each bed.

Most fire stations have separate dormitories for male and female firefighters, but due to budget limitations, the Estacada station simply has curtains around the beds for privacy.

The floor is bare because it’s easier to keep sanitary than a rug would be.

Sanitation is a concern, the engineer explained, because the firefighters often have to walk through contaminated areas to respond to medical emergencies.

For example, it’s possible, that the firefighters could track in Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) on their clothes.

For that reason, the firefighters leave their work clothes in the dormitory when they go off shift to avoid exposure.

If there’s a call in the middle of the night, the firefighters have to leap out of the bed and be on the vehicle, ready to go, in under three minutes.

The goal is two.

Imagine going from dead asleep to alert in under three minutes.

There’s not much time for grogginess, but the firefighters occasionally bump into each other while getting into their gear, admitted the engineer.

“We’re always in that state of readiness. Then you go home and crash,” said the engineer.

Student firefighter Trent Westenfelt said that last week, one unlucky shift was up all night.

Over the course of a single shift there was a brush fire, a house fire and another brush fire.

Westenfelt responded to the second brush fire, but several firefighters responded to all three incidents.

“There were several people who responded to all three of those calls including some volunteers who came down here and stayed up all night with those guys,” Westenfelt said.

If they’re not off on a call, the firefighters’ work day starts promptly at 7 a.m.

There are rig checks, daily chores and drills.

“There’s always something to do,” said Brooke Brown, an engineer and paramedic.

Estacada Rural Fire District No. 69 personnel frequently serve as the first medical response for the Estacada area.

Westenfelt explained that American Medical Response ambulances typically have to drive from Sandy or Boring to respond to Estacada area incidents.

Estacada firefighters are often there 15-20 minutes before the ambulance arrives.

The department also gets a fair amount of “walk-in” patients.

They’ve apparently even had “walk-in heart attacks.”

Estacada firefighters also respond to calls for “invalid assistance.”

Like when an elderly person takes a fall.

In instances like that, the firefighters often help out in more ways than medical aid.

They’ve been known to mop a floor when someone has fallen down, soiled themselves and needs to go to the hospital.

“I always look at it like it was my family,” the engineer said.

Or they’ve finished mowing a lawn when someone has had a medical problem before the task was done.

“That’s the kind of person you want in the fire service,” said the engineer.

It’s a specific type of personality that would do well in this line of work.

The engineer said he’d never share the worst call he has ever been on, since no one else should have to deal with that.

“We see people at their worst,” he said. “Pretty much every call we go on, people are having the worst day of their life.”

That said, all four of the firefighters on shift put a great deal of effort into landing the job.

Brown, for instance, had long wanted to be a firefighter and got her paramedic certification to become a more competitive candidate.

In her spare time, Brown and her boyfriend, a volunteer firefighter in Forest Grove, have been climbing the stairs of a Portland skyscraper in full gear complete with oxygen tank and mask.

They are training for the 23rd annual Scott Firefighter Stair Climb in Washington state. The event is a fundraiser for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

This is Brown’s fifth year of participation.

In March, she’ll climb 69 stories in full-gear.

If you are interested in volunteering for or finding a career in the fire service, call Estacada Rural Fire District No. 69 at 503-630-7712 for information on training programs.




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