A BURNING DESIRE TO IMPACT PEOPLE'S LIVES
After more than three decades with the Lake Oswego Fire Department, Larry Goff will take over as fire chief on Saturday
It didnt take long for Larry Goff to know that he was destined for a career as a firefighter.
I basically graduated from high school on a Friday, and on Monday I was working at the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, Goff says. He spent that summer as part of a crew fighting wildland fires, using hand tools to remove brush and other fuels from the path of the flames.
After that first summer fighting wildland fires, he says, I just realized that this was a pretty unique job. And after that point, I couldnt think about doing anything else.
Its still a job he loves, one that has taken him from the front lines of fires and floods to key administrative positions in emergency management and disaster preparedness. On Saturday, hell replace the retiring Ed Wilson as chief of the Lake Oswego Fire Department.
I enjoyed them all I really did, he says of the various roles. Each one was a challenge, but its kind of fun taking on new roles and challenges. And when youre surrounded by a lot of great people to work with, it makes it well, Ive been really fortunate with what Ive had.
Wilson, who is leaving the department after more than a decade as chief, says it is the LOFD that has been fortunate. I relied heavily on Larrys counsel over the years when making decisions for our organization, he said, and to be honest, he was right more often than I was.
He has dedicated the majority of his career to making the Lake Oswego Fire Department better better for our members and better for the community that we serve, Wilson said. His background in fire prevention, emergency management, emergency operations and EMS will serve the department well during his time as fire chief.
Goff has been a familiar face at the LOFD for more than three decades, but his career began in Southern California after he was inspired by the father of one of his high school friends, who was an assistant chief at the county fire department at the time.
Through him, I kind of got a bug for the fire service, Goff says.
He worked as a seasonal firefighter for Santa Barbara County for the first couple of years. He also worked for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as CALFIRE, helping fight fires in the nearby Los Padres National Forest and in San Bernardino.
One of those fires, he recalls, burned through 247 homes near Santa Barbara in about 6 hours, fanned by winds of 60-70 mph.
I was actually off duty that night, but my friends dad was the incident commander, so I came in and said, Where do you need me? he says. It was one of my most memorable days.
Goff also spent time working for the U.S. Forest Service, traveling across the country as part of an interagency hotshot crew. Once, that crew was flying by helicopter to the site of a wildfire when the pilot smelled leaking fuel. He dropped off the hotshots before heading back to base.
But as the helicopter took off, one of its engines caught on fire, forcing an emergency landing.
A big explosion of fire the fuel line had broken lose from one of the engines. So the helicopter started coming at us. Luckily, it landed on the road and no one was seriously hurt, Goff says. But just being on that helicopter minutes before. ... The pilot said if (all) of us would have been loaded on the helicopter, that he didnt think that he wouldve been able to hold the helicopter with that much weight.
Working long hours with the hotshot crew became more difficult to maintain when Goff got married.
I was gone a lot that summer, Goff says. Id just gotten married and gone to work for the hotshot crew, and basically said goodbye to my wife for three months.
So after a busy summer in 1980, he took a full-time position at a municipal fire department in Prescott, Ariz., where he stayed for about two years. Goffs wife, Shelley, is originally from the Northwest, though, and both have family here. So when he got word that the LOFD was testing for new firefighters, Lake Oswego became an ideal destination.
The Goffs moved to the city in 1982, and he has held a variety of positions since joining the department firefighter, driver engineer, acting lieutenant, deputy fire marshal and interim fire marshal. He served as the interim fire chief for nearly a year before Wilson was brought on to fill the role, and Goff then became the deputy fire chief and assistant chief of operations.
Throughout his career in Lake Oswego, Goff has had a particular interest in emergency management. After a record-breaking flood in 1996, the city decided to create a permanent position in charge of emergency management and disaster preparedness not just for fires, but also for floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters.
The lake flooded along the main canal, so it was a pretty significant flood. Anybody who was here in 96 remembers the flood we had water going across Highway 43, he says. So after that, they decided we needed more emphasis on the emergency management program.
Goff was already teaching emergency preparedness at the time as part of the LOFDs Community Emergency Response Team training program, making him a natural choice to take on the new role. At the urging of then-chief Scott Dodd, Goff became the battalion chief for emergency management.
Probably the biggest jump was when I became emergency manager just learning that, he says. That was really vastly different in terms of how many things go into an emergency management program. Theres a lot more than just developing a plan and putting it on the bookshelf.
In 1985, Goff was elected to serve on the Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue board, which oversaw the merger of the Tualatin Rural and Washington County #1 fire districts. He was elected to be the first president of the new agencys board, and continued to serve there until 2009.
Working on policy at the highest level in the fire service that was a really unique position to be in, to be involved in a lot of those issues, says Goff. That was a great experience. I got to work with a lot of great people here and there, a lot of great fire chiefs. I learned a lot from a lot of people.
Though no longer a member of the TVF&R board, Goff maintains several other roles that will continue when he takes over as fire chief. Hes currently serving as chief of the Clackamas County Fire Defense Board, as well as the liaison officer for the Oregon Department of Forestrys incident management team, which coordinates responses to wildland fires. He will also continue to be involved in emergency management.
Looking back on his career, Goff says he never expected to end up in so many roles, but has enjoyed having the chance to do so.
I definitely got involved in a lot more areas than I ever thought. Youre just thinking of riding on a fire engine backwards when you start out, he says. I never thought Id be involved with all the things statewide and others you get to be involved with, but its really rewarding to get to participate like that.
Goff says hes looking forward to working with his staff in Lake Oswego and continuing to serve the community. He says he enjoys the relatively small size of the department, and the positive relationships the LOFD maintains with other city departments and with the community at large.
He says he feels prepared to guide the LOFD through upcoming challenges, the most notable of which is a high turnover rate caused by several recent and upcoming retirements.
Weve just lost, through retirements, some great individuals Chief Wilson as well as several other lieutenants and others that have a lot of experience. So one of the big challenges going forward is going to be to mentor people in new roles, he says. But we think were ready. We train a lot, we prepare a lot, so we have a lot of people very capable of stepping up into the roles.
Over the course of his career, Goff says hes seen an expansion in the number of roles taken on by the LOFD and by fire departments in general. One of the most notable examples: emergency calls for non-fire incidents such as vehicle accidents. That has increased the total number of calls fielded by most departments, even though the number of fire calls has remained relatively consistent.
But in spite of the changes, Goff says the thing hes looking forward to most about being chief is the same thing he already enjoys in his current roles: the chance to help his fellow firefighters and members of his community.
What appeals to me most is being able to help people or in this case, as fire chief, help the people that will be out serving the public, and being there on their worst day, he says. It sounds maybe a little corny, but its really neat when you can come in and make something better, have an impact on peoples lives.