Service before self
Estacada Volunteer Firefighter Damon Faust will soon be honored at the local and national levels for his service in the U.S. and abroad.
Faust has been named the American Legion's National Firefighter of the Year and will be the grand marshal of the Estacada Fourth of July parade. Previously, he received the Soldier's Medal for Heroism for saving Iraqi citizens from a burning building and was named Estacada Firefighter of the Year by the American Legion Carl Douglas Post.
"It's an amazing community, and to be invited to do that, I feel very grateful," he said, discussing his involvement in the parade. "I'm just down the road in Clackamas, but this is my home away from home."
Prior to becoming a firefighter, Faust enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2000 and served in Germany and Iraq.
"I matured quite a bit and was challenged," he said. "My first contract was to Germany, and we guarded facilities and guarded a lot of the housing where military families lived."
Between his time in Germany and Iraq, Faust trained new soldiers in California. When he found out that the soldiers he trained were being deployed to Iraq, he volunteered to join them.
"I felt obligated to those younger soldiers. They'd become my friends and my family," Faust said.
During the 13 months he spent in Iraq, Faust was exposed to six improvised explosive devices and consequently has a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Many of his fellow soldiers died while serving.
"Our unit took quite a few casualties," he said. "When we were there we'd do a funeral in-country for the guys that we lost. There was one point where I looked at my roommate, and we had lost count of how many funerals we had gone to."
Though Faust's time in Iraq was not always easy, he and his fellow soldiers still found opportunities to help others.
One of Faust's duties was to patrol neighborhoods, searching for IEDS and other threats. During one instance of patrolling, he and his team discovered a building that was on fire. Faust entered the building carrying a small fire extinguisher.
"The building was smoke filled, and out of the back came an Iraqi citizen who started pointing me toward the back rooms. He took out an approximately 8-year-old Iraqi kiddo. We took him out and the whole way I was using the extinguisher to try to clear his pathway," Faust recalled.
The unit's doctor began treating the child, and the Iraqi citizen indicated to Faust that there was someone else in the building. They went back inside and brought out an elderly woman.
"We were using all of the extinguishers we had and we ended up using bottled water, too, because we weren't equipped to fight fire," Faust said.
Faust cites being able to help others as one of the most valuable elements of his service. For his efforts, he was awarded the Soldier's Medal for Heroism in 2009.
"I can only speak from my experience, but one of the things I walked away with feeling prideful is that we did some humanitarian missions there," he said. "This was one of those moments. As a section, we walked away feeling pretty proud that we did this thing."
Faust retired from the Army as a corporal after seven years of service. Once he left the military, he struggled to find his footing, but eventually found a connection with the fire industry.
"When you get out of that service, it's hard to make that connection with who you are and all this time you spent serving others," he said. "Fire was really a place where I could continue to serve and have a purpose."
Faust added that firefighting "feels like home."
"One of the things they talk about in the military is that everything kind of washes away. Your bills back home, whatever family issues you might be having — you're very much in the moment serving with your brothers and sisters in arms. All that really matters to you is what's in front of you," he said. "Fire here in Estacada allows me to have that again. A lot of stresses I may have from my kiddos or from things related to my PTSD and my TBI, they're put on hold. I'm in the moment and I'm able to refocus and help my coworkers on a call to serve the community. It gives me an opportunity to be my best self."
In addition to firefighting, Faust also served with disaster relief organization Team Rubicon from 2011 to 2015. He assisted many communities after natural disasters, including Hurricane Sandy, the Oso Mudslide in Washington and
the Moore Tornado in Oklahoma.
In 2016, Faust traveled to Haiti to train emergency medical technicians and returned in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
Recently, Faust has focused his efforts on the Estacada Rural Fire District's Veteran to Firefighter program. Launched two years ago, it connects veterans with the fire service as they transition back to civilian life.
"Our program is about helping veterans figure out what their next step is going to be. If that next step is fire, we can offer that mentorship," Faust said.
He hopes to use the American Legion National Firefighter of the Year award as a way to further promote the veteran to firefighter concept. He will receive the award during a conference in Minneapolis this August, and he noted that receiving the award "hasn't quite sunk in yet."
In the meantime, Faust is excited about participating in the Estacada Fourth of July parade and continuing to volunteer in the community.
"(Estacada Fire) feels like family. We have what we call the kitchen table where we sit down and have meals together, and we talk about more than calls. We talk about our kids, our families, our aspirations, our goals. It's a great place to belong and to volunteer with," he said.