On Jan. 24, four members of the South Lane County Fire & Rescue (SLCFR) were sworn in and pinned with new ranks. The Sentinel interviewed each to discuss their accomplishments.
Resident Reserve Firefighter:
Moving from his hometown of San Diego, Danny Alton first became acquainted with the area when he matriculated to the University of Oregon to study human physiology.
“I fell in love with Eugene because of the university. I really enjoyed the trees,” Alton said. “The greenery wasn’t something I was used to. A lot more than in San Diego.”
After receiving his EMT basic certification and working for a time in the area with ambulance agencies, he pursued a career in the fire service. It was only in the last couple months Alton was introduced to Cottage Grove.
“It’s an awesome community. I love how tight all the people here are and how much the community supports each other and how much appreciation they have for us as a fire service,” he said. “You can really feel the support in the community. It’s an awesome place to be.”
As part of its resident program, SLCFR offers its participants living accommodation on top of an educational stipend. While fulfilling his firefighter duties, Alton is working to get his paramedic degree at LCC.
“It’s a good spot to be for people who are trying to get into the fire service and get that hands-on experience,” he said. “The department here provides a lot of opportunities you can’t get anywhere else.”
With just over a year and a half left on getting his degree, Alton hopes to bring “a willingness to learn and to train and to contribute to the department in any way that I can so that we can free up firefighter paramedics … to respond when necessary,” he said. “Our position is to augment staffing at the stations so that there are more resources available to help people.”
Alex Wales is another new face to the department. Born and raised in Redmond, Ore., Wales worked at Black Butte Ranch Fire Department for four years in the agency’s student program.
Since his move to Cottage Grove in August, Wales has found a community and a department he thinks he can call home.
“The cohesion here is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever worked,” he said of the fire department. “We’re very progressive. Everybody’s got a voice. … It’s called ‘crew resource management.’ We’re really big into that.”
Wales is currently finishing his bachelor’s degree through Eastern Oregon University, seeking a double major in fire and EMS administration. In the meantime, he offers his skills as a firefighter paramedic as part of SLCFR’s career crew.
“One of the things that attracted to me to Cottage Grove was the size of the town,” he said.
The nature of the area allows Wales variety in performing his skills as a paramedic. “I’ve worked at a lot of places where we had five-minute transport times and you don’t really see much of a response [in patients],” said Wales. “You give that medication or do that procedure and then you’re handing the patient off to somebody else.”
While some of the transports in Cottage Grove can be relatively quick, others require trips to Eugene or Springfield. The longer transport times give Wales the chance to see the effects of his work on a patient. “I can hone my skills over that longer period of time,” he said.
Wales echoed appreciation for the welcoming atmosphere of the area. “The way the community supports the fire department is absolutely incredible,” he said, hoping to return that respect through his service at the department and “making a difference.”
The SLCFR has also welcomed promotions within its department.
After a total of three and a half years at SLCFR, Dylan Fitzgerald has become the department’s newest engineer.
Originally from The Dalles, Ore., Fitzgerald found himself in Cottage Grove by way of family who had moved to the area. The atmospheric change was a plus.
“It blows like 25-miles-per-hour winds every day in The Dalles,” he said. “When I got here, I realized it doesn’t always have to be windy, so I loved that.”
Immediately out of college, Fitzgerald took EMS classes and was soon introduced by a family friend to SLCFR.
“I fell in love with it right away and knew that’s what I wanted to do,” he said.
Like many others, Fitzgerald took advantage of the department’s resident program and student stipend. After 18 months, he was offered a career firefighter position on the team.
Of the department, Fitzgerald said he loves “having a tight-knit group and getting to know everybody on a personal level. … The absolute biggest thing was having the hands-on experience with the guys who’ve been doing it a while.”
With his experience acquired thus far, Fitzgerald is eager to apply his skills to a new level.
“It’s a great step for me. I’m really excited to have it,” he said. “It’s a new challenge. … I hope to bring a little bit more of a leadership role than when I was a firefighter.”
Topping off the new hires and promotions, Tim Heuser’s roughly nearly nine years with SLCFR have brought him to the rank of captain.
Just as his family dots the Pacific Northwest, so too does Heuser’s upbringing. Born in Seattle and raised in the Puget Sound area, Heuser went to high school in Eugene and Springfield before graduating from Cottage Grove High School.
A Cottage Grove resident since 1998, Heuser said he counts lack of natural catastrophes and abundance of natural beauty as part of his love for the area. “Besides the wildfires we see in the summer, it’s pretty calm compared to the rest of the states,” he said. “The mountains are an hour away, the coast is an hour away. You’re in the best location to go out and do stuff.”
Heuser started his career in the fire department in May 2010 as a volunteer and, like many of his coworkers, joined the resident program.
“The best thing overall for the resident program here is: The entire department is really focused on our residents and getting them prepared and giving them the tools they need to be successful,” he said.
In his new role as captain, Heuser is looking forward to the training duties of the job.
“I like to be able to teach the guys coming up behind me,” said Heuser. “That’s one thing I’m really passionate about. So being able to train the next generation of firefighters and the next generation of engineers has really been my pleasure.”
Heuser’s enthusiasm for the job is a thematic quality to the department at large, which in itself is a source of internal encouragement.
“The overall sentiment of everyone here is, we love what we do and we love to come to work,” Heuser said. “We’re absolutely privileged to be able to serve our communities in the ways that we can.”