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Gaston Fire's new space is finally open

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD. - A big-screen TV and four comfy recliners will help draw more overnight volunteers to the Gaston fire station.Start with three mattresses shoved together in a corner of the Gaston fire station.

Add some loud snoring and a “night owl” watching TV on the other side of the room.

The final touch? Every so often the lights suddenly turn on, along with a loud beeping sound that wakes you in the middle of the night — if you’ve been able to fall asleep in the first place.

Ah, the life of a volunteer firefighter on the night shift in Gaston, long the only western Washington County fire station without official overnight quarters.

Think less “scenic B&B” and more “Motel 6 by the Interstate.”

But Thursday, March 24, it got better.

A new addition to the station with private bedrooms opened for business.

“It makes a huge difference to go from three people crammed together to having our own separate rooms,” said Seth Hedin, one of 23 volunteer firefighters in the Gaston Rural Fire District.

Sleeping well before a call “makes you more ready,” Hedin said. “You’re not having that lag from being tired.”

In addition, some overnight volunteers actually have to head straight from the station at 6 a.m. to their day jobs or classes, said Lt. Training Officer Clay Davis.

“The new addition’s a huge hit,” said Hedin, who was one of those night owls who liked to watch TV. Now he doesn’t have to worry about keeping fellow volunteers awake.

Thanks to four separate one-person bedrooms with sound-dampening doors, he couldn’t even hear the one other volunteer when he stayed in the new space last week.

$15 a night

Hedin, who lives about nine miles from the station, has served Gaston since 2004 and signed on to overnight duty when night shifts first started in February 2015. Before that, most night calls fell to a small core of volunteers who lived nearby.

But Hedin became one of seven to nine volunteers who tried to staff the station Monday through Friday nights, two or three at a time. Still short-staffed, they eventually dropped Fridays.

Volunteers get a $15 stipend for overnight duty, along with the standard $10 stipend per call.

The night shift runs from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. The station’s two full-time firefighters arrive at 6:30 a.m. Theoretically (there are still some no-show nights), that leaves a gap Mondays through Thursdays from 6:30 to 9 p.m.

The idea is to let volunteers get home from work and have dinner or family time before they take off for the night, said Hedin, who tries to show up for night duty at least once a week.

Before night shifts started, it would take five to 10 minutes just for someone to wake up and rush to the station, let alone suit up and head out, said former fire chief Roger Mesenbrink. Now, two overnight volunteers can be on their way to a medical call in about a minute, he said.

Hedin estimates he’s responded to calls about half the nights he’s spent at the station.The new quarters offer showers to volunteers, too.

According to statistics from Gaston Fire Chief Michael Kinkade, 911 calls between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. occurred about 45 times during all of 2015 — an average of roughly four a month.

Most are medical, said Hedin, ranging “from headaches all the way to heart attacks.”

Even if the call turns out to be a minor problem, “we take it very seriously,” Hedin said. “Obviously, they’re calling because they think they’re having an emergency.”

Labor of love

In a survey several years ago, nearly all GRFD volunteers said they’d be willing to staff the station at least a few nights a month if beds were available, according to Davis.

In May 2014, GRFD residents approved a levy with the understanding that some of the money would go toward overnight quarters. The 1,900- square-foot structure cost $398,000.

Kinkade, who is also Forest Grove’s fire chief, is considering using at least a few bedrooms for “resident volunteers,” similar to the setup at Forest Grove Fire & Rescue’s Gales Creek fire station.

There, an adjacent manufactured home will soon house four volunteer firefighters, rent-free, so they’ll be closer to local calls than the Forest Grove station almost eight miles away. Two have already moved in, a third will join them this month and a fourth is “in the wings,” Kinkade said.

In Gaston, Hedin believes the addition will draw more night-shift volunteers. NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Now there are private bedrooms with doors that can block out sounds from other volunteers. The wooden cabinets were made by Gaston High School students.

Already one — a Gaston High grad who started in the station’s cadet program — used to sleep over a couple times a week, Hedin said. Now “he’s there every night.”

As with all the other local volunteers, he said, “it’s a labor of love.”

A formal, public dedication of the new addition will happen sometime this spring or early summer, once it has been painted and landscaped, Kinkade said.

Randy Hoodenpyl, a firefighter/emergency medical technician, stands at what used to be the back door of the fire station but now opens onto a utility room in the new addition.

The kitchen space makes volunteers more comfortable when they have to work odd hours.