Ralph "Tiny" Lidstrom: December 4, 1942 - April 4, 2007
Ralph Lidstrom, known to his many friends as 'Tiny,' died at 4:30 a.m. on April 4. A former volunteer firefighter and long-serving member of Clackamas County Fire District #1's governing board, his leadership reached across the State of Oregon - and beyond.
'Between his time as a volunteer and a board member, he was active in the fire service for 37 years,' said Battalion Chief Tim Dahl. 'This was his way of serving his community and his country.'
His firefighting career began this month in 1970, when he volunteered for Multnomah County Fire District #12, which served the Errol Heights area.
Following a merger with Milwaukie Rural District #56, he ran for a seat on the combined organization's board, which he has held ever since - guiding it through five additional mergers to create CCFD #1 as it exists today. At the state level, he served twice as the president of the Oregon Fire District Directors Association.
'It's a sad day for the fire district, for the state and beyond' said Fire Chief Ed Kirchhofer. 'Tiny touched many people during his long years of service.'
Reacting to his death from cancer, firefighters recalled a strong-willed, charismatic leader, who cared deeply about diverse aspects of the fire service.
'Tiny definitely had his opinions and his ideas - and that's exactly the kind of leader you want,' said Dahl. 'Sometimes he came at things from a different angle, but that kept the board on an even keel.'
'He was very dedicated to the volunteer program. At combined departments like ours, there has typically been a transition from volunteer to career firefighters, but that has not been the case here, largely owing to his energy. That gives us a lot of depth that we wouldn't have otherwise.'
Kirchhofer recalled his keen interest in fire engines and their mechanical systems - which flowed from his full-time job with a Portland company, servicing complex hydraulic and power take-off systems.
'His passion was fire apparatus, and particularly antique fire apparatus, of which he owned one,' said the chief. 'His health deteriorated and he wasn't able to finish the restoration, so now his daughter has taken it on herself to complete the work.'
Lidstrom's death came midway through his ninth four-year term. The district's remaining board members will appoint a replacement to serve out the remainder of his current term, and district residents will vote to fill the seat for another four years in May 2009.
'This has been tough for all of us,' Kirchhofer said. 'We have a lot of work to do. We handle the death of one of our own like an emergency incident - we assign different roles and responsibilities, and we all work to put the needs of the family first.'
For firefighters, who are accustomed to using dynamic action as a solution to problems, the death of this well-loved leader is a source of frustration, as well as sorrow.
'We can't send four engines, two trucks and a chief out on this one. We can only send one chief, code one,' said Dahl, referring to the code for an unhurried response, without lights or sirens.
'We've never had this issue come up before,' said Lieutenant John Hopkins, the district's public information officer. 'We've never had a member of the board of directors die in office.
'So often, we're used to responding to and mitigating an issue, and we often approach it with all the tact of a Viking strike force, but in this instance, we need to step back and, like it says in the manual, put the family first.'