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East Coast Fire Houses

Madras intern firefighters tour urban stations, view time-honored traditions

by: Submitted Photo - The firefighter  interns in Washington , D.C., from left, Lance Roberts, Josh Hiskey, Randy Watkins, Jason Kish, Tyler Hordichok.

It took some time to adjust to culture shock in the big cities, but Jefferson County's five intern firefighters said they met some great people and saw a whole different style of tackling fires during their two-week trip back East.
   The student firefighters, Josh Hiskey, 28, Jason Kish, 19, and 20-year-olds, Lance Roberts, Tyler Hordichok, and Randy Watkins, areall in the COCC fire science program. The students get hands-on experience by living and running calls with the crew at the Jefferson County Fire Station in Madras, and in return, the fire station pays for their two-year COCC program.
   As part of the program, the interns were challenged by Fire Marshal Mark Carman to do something positive that would leave a lasting impression in the community. After weeks of meetings the young men hit on a two-prong idea: Raise enough money to purchase and install new playground equipment at Sahalee Park, and for an educational trip for themselves to visit fire stations on the East Coast.
   Their goal was to raise $18,000, and after 1 1/2 years of hard work and fund-raisers, including helping with the Rotary's Cherry Tree Celebration, the interns raised a whopping $19,000. The park play equipment will be installed this spring or summer by the interns and Rotary members.
   With their work done, the interns headed to the East Coast where, from Dec. 7 to 23, they traveled 1,800 miles via plane, subway, train, taxi and rental car, and visited 40 different fire stations.
   Their educational adventure began in New York City. Intern Hiskey had called ahead and established some connections, but most of the time the young men just walked around cities and arrived at fire stations unannounced.
   During their two days in New York, they learned why it's called "the city that never sleeps."
   "We stayed up for 48 hours to see everything," Kish said, noting that the streets in New York were even busy at 2:30 a.m. "The people were shoulder to shoulder and the taxis have their own Morse code with their horns, and you have to watch out or you'll get hit," he added.
   Watkins said they started looking at 5:30 a.m., and it took them three hours before they found a restaurant where they could sit down and eat breakfast.
   "The people are so busy, they don't know how to sit down and eat. They also all take two pairs of shoes to work -- their nice shoes and a pair of jogging shoes to walk in. You could count the names of the people who own cars in New York," Kish said.
   The biggest shock in New York was looking down a street and seeing the sunrise, when they hadn't even realized it was night.
   "If you don't look up you think it's daylight because of all the lights, and because you usually can't see the horizon (due to buildings)," Kish observed.
   In New York, fire stations were called "firehouses" and each place claimed it was the busiest house in the city. In talking to the city firemen, the interns noticed marked differences.
   "They are more traditional and are very aggressive going into fires. We're more safety oriented on the West Coast," Watkins said. He said East Cost firefighters take risks because they hate to see buildings burn down, especially since so many of the buildings back there are historic.
   "They have a lot of engines and ladder trucks and would ask us `What are you on, a ladder or an engine?' We said we do everything -- rescue vehicles and engines, but don't have ladder trucks," Watkins said.
   The interns worked some sightseeing into the trip as well, and Watkins said a visit to the site of the 9-11 attack made his hair stand on end.
   "We're walking in the middle of this big city and all of the sudden there's just this big block with nothing there. It was pretty emotional," he recalled.
   In New York firehouses there were memorials on every engine of the firefighters lost from that house. There were also plaques on the houses and memorials inside.
   After their whirlwind tour of New York City, the group boarded an Amtrak train at 3:30 a.m., and slept on the way to Boston. Expecting it to be as busy as New York, they were surprised to find the streets deserted.
   "In Boston it was quiet and there was no one around," Watkins said, noting after the noisy city they come from, "It looked like a ghost town."
   There, they hung out, swapped stories with the firemen, and saw a different attitude toward fire gear. One Boston firefighter was still using a helmet that had been melted and was cracking, calling it his "honor badge." In Oregon, a melted helmet wouldn't be allowed for safety reasons, Watkins said.
   Renting a car, they traveled to Gettysburg, Pa., which was a prearranged two-night visit. While firefighters' quarters had been pretty small in some of the city fire houses, Gettysburg had a large space for its crew, which included 100 volunteers.
   The next stop was Washington, D.C., where they toured three fire houses and took in as many historical sites as they could.
   "It was amazing. In eight hours we were practically jogging to see all the monuments and memorials. We were always on foot and stayed up all night," Watkins said.
   Traveling to a scheduled stay in Richmond, Va., the group split up to stay at two of the busiest firehouses in the city.
   "Their hospitality was great. They had a paid staff person show us around and talk about the city and history around there. We got to see their dive squad and some of their big rescue vehicles," Kish said, noting Richmond had an entire city block go up in flames last year.
   "They let us ride along on three calls and we got to see a gun shot incident, and a guy jumping out of a two-story building because he smelled smoke," Watkins added.
   Heading south to Savannah, Ga., the interns said the firefighters were as interested in firemen from the West Coast as the interns were in them.
   The fact that the Madras interns were getting fire science degrees and had to be paramedics as well as firefighters was news to the Georgia crew.
   "Hearing we were getting degrees at our age just blew them away, and they practically tried to give us a job," Kish said, noting Georgia doesn't require degrees, just certification as an emergency medical technician-1 and firefighter-1.
   Watkins took the offer seriously, and said he liked the area and intended to apply in Savannah when he graduates, since it's very difficult to find an opening in the fire service field right now.
   The citizens of Savannah held firefighters in high esteem, too. "We were in a restaurant eating and four people saw our uniforms and came up and wanted to shake our hands," Kish said.
   Things were different in Cocoa Beach, Fla., where they found firemen also have to be paramedics, just like in Oregon.
   After being on the run for nearly two-weeks, the group took a few days to relax, enjoy 70-degree weather, and just be tourists in Orlando, Fla., then flew home to the freezing cold.
   The East Coast trip taught them a lot about urban methods, different tools and attitudes toward attacking fires, and especially about firefighting as a time-honored tradition.
   "It was incredible. It gave us new perspectives and made me proud to be in the fire service," Watkins said, adding, "I think they really liked seeing people from the West Coast, too."
   Kish agreed, observing, "They think they're just average Joes, and then we show up and tell them we raised money to come and see them, and they think `Wow!'"
   The interns want to thank everyone who helped make the trip happen and said they want to make sure the community service/trip program continues for the next group of students.
   Noting the trip had a direct impact on his career, since he found job opportunities in Georgia, Watkins emphasized, "We appreciate the support of the community because we're going to remember this for a lifetime!"