The Lake Oswego Fire Department capped off a busy transitional year with a badge-pinning ceremony on Saturday morning to honor 22 staff members who were hired or received promotions during the past 12 months.
"We are so proud of our personnel and this group," Fire Chief Larry Goff told the audience of nearly 100 family members who gathered in the bay of the Main Fire Station on B Avenue. "It's been fantastic to watch the growth of this organization."
Goff himself was promoted to chief in late 2015 after longtime Chief Ed Wilson retired. That promotion — along with several other high-level retirements in 2016 — resulted in new promotions to almost every rank in the department during the past year, along with eight new hires.
"We're here today to celebrate employees who have achieved a milestone in their careers," said Assistant City Manager Megan Phelan.
Fire Marshall Gert Zoutendijk kicked off the ceremony by mentioning three in-training firefighters who have passed certification but not yet completed their required one-year probationary periods: Cody Grimm, Benjamin Fox and Andrea Tardio.
He then read off the names of five new firefighters who had finished their probation and were ready to receive their badges: Nick Fiorante, Nathan Sigler, Dan Hires, Zachary Bell and Nathan Weikel. Next up were five firefighters promoted to the rank of driver-engineer: Russ Thackery, Andrew Owens, Joe Hires, Ryan Rudge and Jonathan Isbell.
"It's cool to see the payoff today," said Hires, who was promoted in June. "It's a fun day to celebrate with family."
There also were five newly promoted lieutenants: Paul Lauritzon, Brian Wheeler, Ken Green, JT Anoushiravani and Jeremy Langeliers. Zoutendijk noted that Lauritzon and Wheeler had both been promoted to the rank of driver-engineer in early 2016 and then were both promoted again to lieutenant roughly six months later.
Troy Bany, Scott Vachter and Greg Barnum were all promoted to the rank of battalion chief, and David Morris was honored for his promotion to assistant chief — Goff's position before he was promoted to the department's top job.
Each of the honorees had friends and family members present in the audience — wives, girlfriends, parents and children who helped pin badges on the promoted firefighters. New Battalion Chief Troy Bany all but stole the show, though, when he held granddaughter Riley during his part of the ceremony.
Morris had a special guest, too: retired Gaston Fire Chief Ron Hoodenpyl, who gave the LOFD's new assistant chief his first paid firefighting job and helped to lauch his career. Hoodenpyl told The Review that it was "pretty darn neat" to see Morris's promotion in person.
According to Zoutendijk, Saturday's ceremony was the first of its kind in several years, but the department intends to make it an annual tradition from now on.
"The last time we did this, we had to catch up for 11 years of promotions," Zoutendijk said. "Now we'll do this every year, for any promotions. It's exciting times for us, to see our younger talent grow up and become part of the leadership."
Aside from the newly hired firefighters, Zoutendijk said the department was able to fill all of its open positions by promoting from within. The process is made easier, he said, because staff members will often go through the testing and certification process in advance, enabling them to quickly step up into new roles in the event of a departure or retirement.
"It hasn't been challenging in the sense that everyone has prepared so much for the positions they're moving into," Morris added. "It's very hard to make selections at times, because it's so close."
Last year saw an unusually high number of promotions in the department, but officials say there may be a few more busy years ahead. The department has a large number of senior staff members approaching retirement, and the ones who retired this year were likely only the first wave.
Morris said that such a high turnover rate will be a challenge, but the department will be able to handle it.
"Having all these new people and positions is creating a new culture here," Morris said. "We are different, and we are going to change. We're trying to make sure that culture is going in a direction we want it to go."
Goff expressed pride in the department and all of its personnel, and said it was an honor to be able to serve as fire chief. He spoke positively of the transition period, describing it as an opportunity to innovate in response to challenges faced by the department, including a call volume that continues to increase each year.
"There's always constant change," he said, "and new ideas that will make us even better."