Liz Heckathorn and Mike Lepin, of JCEMS, and Don Colfels of Lake Chinook Fire and Rescue took home state awards.

PHOTO BY BILL VOLLMER - From left, Jefferson County Emergency Medical Services Chief Liz Heckathorn and Assistant Chief Mike Lepin, and Lake Chinook Fire and Rescue Chief Don Colfels all received recognition Feb. 11, at the Special Districts Association of Oregon's annual banquet. Jefferson County programs took home three of the seven state awards.
Last weekend, the Special Districts Association of Oregon handed out its annual awards at a banquet in Portland, with three of the seven statewide honorees hailing from Jefferson County.

Saturday night, Feb. 11, Jefferson County Emergency Medical Services Chief Liz Heckathorn and Assistant Chief Mike Lepin were honored as the Manager of the Year and Employee of the Year, respectively.

In addition to the awards received by Heckathorn and Lepin, Chief Don Colfels of Lake Chinook Fire and Rescue accepted the Service Award for Outstanding Program.

The SDAO Awards Program gives recognition to member districts for accomplishments that lead to better service to the public and honors individuals who have greatly contributed to the success of their organizations.

These awards celebrate the ingenuity, creativity, and diversity of special districts members. The Awards Committee reviews nominations in October using standard evaluation features, such as impact for other districts, positive results, special purpose, increased safety, cost savings, improved quality of service, innovation, and community need.

Jefferson County Emergency Medical Services

Heckathorn's award was received due to her efforts to improve the function and safety of the JCEMS District. One of the advancements she started was to bring electronic charting and statistics to the district in order to determine training needs, procurement needs and cost allocation.

In addition, she was instrumental in improving the district fleet with the purchase of two new four-wheel drive ambulances with state of the art safety features, which came in handy this year.

On receiving her award Heckathorn said, "I am truly humbled. I am blessed to work with such talented and dedicated individuals who together create an unstoppable team. From board members to EMS staff and administrative staff, as well as the community, altogether an incredible group of people and class act."

One thing many community members don't know about the JCEMS District is that while it is a special district able to ask for county tax support, they currently do not receive any support from taxes and operate solely on user fees.

The district has been very fortunate in obtaining grant money to help with operational expenses and has the support of the volunteer association to help bolster the ranks of EMTs.

Heckathorn said they are looking towards the creation of a community paramedic program. "We will continue to keep looking for more ways to enhance our service to the community; there is always room for improvement."

Lepin commented, "I am grateful for the support of the board of directors and to have crews that are dedicated to our mission. It's great to be able to come to work and be surrounded by such remarkable staff and volunteers."

Lake Chinook Fire and Rescue

The Lake Chinook Fire and Rescue prides itself on its service to its taxpayers, according to Colfels, noting, "Since the establishment of the district in 2008, we have continually strived to increase our services through new training, new equipment, and new apparatus at the best possible cost."

"Our main focus is on life safety through preparedness and prevention," he continued. "In an effort to be more prepared, we have replaced old unreliable apparatus with newer reliable engines, a new tender and a newer ambulance."

"Our goal was to do this as fiscally responsible and financially prudent as possible," said Colfels. "The new pumper came to us from Portland Fire Bureau. It was a donated surplus engine with very low miles, 4WD, 1,000 gallon tank and 1,250 (gallons per minute) — an ideal engine for the area!"

The district's new tender was provided by the Oregon Department of Forestry Federal Excess Program. Under the program, firefighters can get excess Department of Defense property to be used for firefighting and emergency services. The tank and pump was purchased with grant dollars and the sale of surplus equipment.

The ambulance was donated by Black Butte Rural Fire Protection District and is now licensed by the state as a transporting ambulance.

"We are currently working with Jefferson County EMS on a response agreement to be able to transport patients to definitive care more promptly without having to wait for an ambulance to travel from Madras," he said, adding that the total cost to the taxpayers for the all the new equipment valued at more than $250,000 was less than $10,000.

"LCF&R places a high priority on fire prevention, as well," he said. "We continue to use technology to help us meet our fire prevention goals. Such technology includes Google Voice app for our automated outdoor burning information message line."

"Our award-winning wildfire detection camera system has proven itself time after time in the early detection of wildfire in our area," he said. "Our new online outdoor burning permit app allows you to renew your burning permit each year from any web-based device."

Lake Chinook continues to work with Interagency Firefighting Crew Agreement's Ready, Set, Go! program. The national program assists fire departments in working with communities in wildfire preparedness.

"Currently, our district is No. 1 in the state and is third in the nation for total hours devoted to wildfire preparedness," he said. "We will continue to hold workshops and to work with home owners to provide defensible space so that their property has a better chance of surviving a catastrophic wildfire."

"We hope to continue on this path to success," Colfels said. "As time goes on, we plan to continue to increase our service levels as our community and district continue to grow."

The videos for the awards can be viewed at Special Districts of Oregon website at

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