McKenzie River Reflections - Make the McKenzie Connection!



“We can’t just leave when the patient is in an ambulance”









MCKENZIE BRIDGE: “When you see a dad or grandad or grandma in pain or suffering, everybody in the family is a victim.” That’s the sort of situation first responders often have to contend with - whether they’re on the scene of a car wreck or a cardiac incident. The same scene often plays out if homeowners see flames consuming a house full of memories.

“Nobody can do it all by themselves,” admits Upper McKenzie Fire Chief Bret Russell. At times there’s a need for someone to simply hold an IV bag while life saving efforts are underway. Under other conditions having another person show up who can direct traffic or point a flashlight could be a big help.

Russell gives the fire department high marks, saying, “The past fire chiefs and the board have done a great job of running this as a business. They’ve acquired great stations and top line equipment - as good as or better than most departments in Lane County.”

Looking ahead, he has two key goals in mind. The first is recruiting and retaining volunteers. The second is, “Guaranteeing a 24/7 emergency response to our community.”

Vern Langan and Steve Otoupalik are among those on the 20-member volunteer roll. They came on board a long time ago and provide advanced life support after completing extensive medical training. With a 27 percent increase in calls (mostly medical) from 2015 to 2016, the fire board decided this year to institute “pay per call.” The $10 to $15 volunteers will receive isn’t going to make anyone rich, but is intended as a way of at least helping to pay for gas when someone responds.

Vern says he isn’t sure of the total number of calls he’s responded to but says when he checked a few years ago he was averaging from 130 to 140 calls per year.

An incident about ten years ago sparked his decision become a volunteer when his daughter called him at work, saying their house was on fire. En route he phoned 911. Luckily when he got there she’d extinguished the fire in the bathroom herself.

“But no one showed up from the fire department,” Vern says.  “They didn’t have anyone to respond and we never saw a fire truck.”

That experience not only motivated his decision to become a volunteer, but also motivated his daughter, wife and the rest of the family, including his uncle and aunt.

Not everyone, of course, wants to be a paramedic, or even a firefighter. Russell says there’s a wide range of simple things people who want to help that they may not ever thought of. One could be holding someone’s hand to help calm a situation. Another might involve looking after a patient’s dogs if they’re going to be away from home. Other tasks range from helping set up lights at an accident scene or bringing sandwiches to a crew spending hours on a fire watch.

“If we have an air ambulance land a couple of people have to go to the landing zone,” the chief said. “It’s means taking people who were doing critical care away from the scene.”

Volunteers, too, don’t have to do everything. “We have people who are 70 years old,” Russell points out. “Maybe someone would only want to drive, or help in the office, paint or be part of a support group. It’s not just firefighting and medical training. We’re just like a large family, there’s always plenty of things to do and things going on every day.”

Echoing that sentiment is Molly Jones, who along with her husband Garret became the newest Upper McKenzie volunteers soon after settling in in April. “I figured the best way to give back to my community was to be involved,” Molly explains.

Like Vern, she had a first hand experience that caused her to step forward. “A friend of mine was in a car accident and I happened to be walking by at the time. I was the one who called 911.” But that was all she could do.

“I didn’t know how to answer their questions,” Molly says. “I didn’t know how to check, to see if she was breathing. All I could do was feel scared.”

Her solution was to take a Wilderness First Aid course related to her job with the US Forest Service. Besides being a biological science technician, she’s also a Youth Conservation Corps team leader. Now a wilderness first responder, a step below an EMT, she plans to further her training through the fire department.

Russell, who has served as an officer on a Homeland Security FEMA Search & Rescue team, says he’d like to educate the overall community on emergency preparedness. Currently, he’s working on developing a Citizens Emergency Response Team to deal with anything from floods to earthquakes or forest fires that might cut off the area from outside aid.

“A rural area like ours may not see any outside help for over a week or two,” he cautions. “The community needs to be able to hold its own.”

For more information contact Chief Russell at 541-822-3479 or go to

Image: Having more than one person respond to an emergency scene is the goal of the Upper McKenzie Fire Department.


McKenzie River Reflections



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