The Canby Fire District, Canby Volunteers Division Chief Wayne Austen and Aurora Fire Chief Joshua Williams were all recognized for their outstanding service with annual awards handed down by the Special Districts Association of Oregon this week.
Part of the SDAO’s annual awards conference, held virtually this year, recognized Canby Fire as an outstanding mid-size district (six to 25 employees) and Austen for more than 50 years of dedicated service as a volunteer firefighter.
“Congratulations to everyone for receiving this award and all your hard work,” Canby Fire Board President Shawn Carroll said in an email to district personnel. “Congratulations to Wayne for his 50 years of service.”
Canby Fire, in particular, was recognized for its unique internship program training local high school and college students interested in entering the fire service or emergency medical field.
Headed up by Fire Division Chief Matt English, the program allows college students to intern with the district while still attending classes.
Despite the pandemic, Canby Fire was able to recruit six interns this past summer, including locals Kyler Boyd, Emma Nelzen, Wyatt Ramos and Brooke Davis — granddaughter of Chief Jim Davis.
“From the six interns we’ve had, we’ve been very successful,” English said in the video award announcement. “We have good people and they’re following directions, doing what they’re supposed to do.”
Wayne Austen, the first and only volunteer to have ever served more than 50 years with the Canby Fire District, was recognized for his incredible half-century of dedicated service to the community.
Austen’s distinguished career began in the days when volunteers were mechanics and shop owners who would hear the town siren, hang the “Be Right Back” sign on the door and run hop on the tailboard as the engine roared out of the station.
“It was very important to have volunteers because that’s all we had,” Austen recalled. “You needed to be there, or the rigs wouldn’t go out. … And you made that decision — it was just kind of what you did 50 years ago.”
In the decades since, Austen has done every job and held every position in the volunteer program and currently serves as division chief. And he shows no sign of slowing down — still logging around 45 hours a week — and jokes that he doesn’t plan on retiring until Davis or another chief forces him to.
“This has been what I’ve done,” he said. “I haven’t been in five or six different organizations, trying to spread my time out with everybody. This has been my focus. It’s been part of my life for so long, I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t doing this.”
Williams, chief of the Aurora Fire District, was recognized for the jaw-dropping generosity and care he and his district showed to smaller, neighboring districts devastated during the September wildfires, including Colton and Idanha-Detroit, which lost its main station and engine when the Beachie Creek Fire roared down the Santiam Canyon on Labor Day night.
While dealing with their own wildfire crisis, Aurora Fire donated one of its own engines to Idanha-Detroit, which was immediately put into service. The gift reportedly overwhelmed Idanha-Detroit Fire Chief Will Ewing to the point of not being able to speak.
“I spent a lot of my career in the Santiam Canyon,” Williams said. “I know the area, I know a lot of the people there, I know a lot of the fire service personnel. So, it really struck me on a human level, knowing the people that are up there, and looking at the devastation.”
The engine was nearing its retirement with the Aurora Fire District anyway, so Williams contacted the board of directors and asked it to be declared surplus so it could be donated — fully equipped, fully fueled and tuned up — to Idanha-Detroit.
We got the engine, fueled it up, put a new battery on it, and [Operations Chief Greg Dyke] and myself drove it straight to Detroit,” he said. “I called Chief Ewing, told him we were on our way, and he drove it right to them.”
To Williams, the donation was simply what needed to be done.
“The people of Detroit lost everything, and they needed that engine far worse than we did,” he said. “I don’t think it’s that extraordinary that we donated an engine to somebody. They needed it; we didn’t.
“And that’s the fire service: If we would have been in a reverse situation where the devastation was occurring here, I know there are people in this state that would have done the same for us.”
The generosity of the district and the greater Aurora community was also seen that month in hosting the exhausted volunteers of the Colton Rural Fire Protection District — whose station was threatened but, fortunately, not damaged during the Riverside Fire.
The virtual awards conference was held Friday, Feb. 5. Physical awards are being mailed out this week.
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