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Firefighters know value of helping neighbors

While wildfire crews in The Dalles continue to mop up hot spots at the Government Flats Complex, Hillsboro Fire Department (HFD) firefighters have returned from their deployment to that conflagration. They are tired and glad to be home.

A few people have asked me why we send firefighters to large fires across the state. It is simple. We like to help, because we never know when we will need help here.

HFD is part of the larger, statewide community of fire departments that pool resources when large conflagrations overwhelm local resources. The city of Hillsboro is reimbursed for the use of HFD resources, and the mutual aid deployments do not negatively impact HFD’s day-to-day services. The city will benefit from the same state conflagration system if we ever face an overwhelming event, such as a prolonged winter storm, flood or earthquake, and need additional resources.

Several of our chief officers, line officers and firefighters also participate in the Office of the State Fire Marshal’s incident management teams. These all-hazards, all-risks teams are on standby 24/7 in case an area of the state is threatened by any type of overwhelming incident. They go to help local agencies plan for and manage the additional resources that will be summoned when the local aid is depleted. Additionally, these team members often donate their time to gather and help organize the funeral or memorial service for public safety officers killed in the line of duty.

Membership in these groups is strictly voluntary. Participation often means being sent halfway across the state with little more than an hour’s notice. Sleeping accommodations are primitive — usually a tent and a sleeping bag; sometimes a cot or air mattress. The hours are long. The job is stressful. Work in the field is dangerous. Crews leave with supplies to take care of themselves for up to three days.

However, the incident management team usually arrives in time to arrange for full meal preparation within a day or so of activation. Deployed crews can and do look forward to hearty meals designed to nourish tired men and women who may have spent the past 12 hours digging fire breaks by hand or running a chain saw felling trees.

At the fire near The Dalles, our firefighters helped defend the city’s vital water treatment plant which, for a time, was directly in the path of the flames. Through their hard work and an improvement in weather, the city’s water plant survived. The loss of that plant would have been devastating to the 16,000 residents and to the economic vitality of the city.

I am proud of the work our firefighters did. The fire chiefs of each of the Washington County agencies that sent crews and resources should be proud of their people as well. They include Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, Forest Grove Fire & Rescue and Banks Fire Department. They are all good partners who are willing to aid their neighbors.

We are in the business of helping people. Normally, that means helping our citizen customers. We also help our neighbors when they need help. Based on this system, I am confident that should we have the need, help will be on its way.

Greg Nelson is chief of the Hillsboro Fire Department.



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