Official City of Gearhart Blog

Keeping our residents informed while maintaining the quality & livability of our community.


DAILY ASTORIAN: Opinion — Ask The Firefighters

Some great history about our Volunteer Firefighters shared in the paper this week!

Southern Exposure: Ask firefighters where new Gearhart station should be

 

Firefighters are great at saving lives, but they’re not always as good at promoting on their own behalf.

Public relations is antithetical to the selfless spontaneity that enables someone to respond to a call at 2 a.m. and enter a burning house. And to forgo evenings and weekends for training necessary to save not only the lives of others, but protect your own, too, in the most desperate and dangerous situations imaginable.

Gearhart firefighters

Members of the Gearhart Volunteer Fire Department.

 

Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the privilege to write about the heroics of the Clatsop County strike teams who leave their homes and families to volunteer on the lines, in Ventura County and Sonoma, California, and in wildfires in southern and eastern Oregon.

Gearhart’s 35-person department sent seven men and women to California to fight the most destructive wildfire in that state’s history.

In Paradise, California, James Hutchinson, Jordan Chandler, Tanner Rich, Sean Kirby, Angels Vargas, Kayla Miller and Lindsey Wolfe saw images that will remain with them for a long time — the remnants of charred homes, rotting animal carcasses on roadsides, and the raw fear on the faces of residents and homeowners who had lost everything.

“A lot of us have seen fatalities and we’ve seen the devastation before,” Chandler said in November. “But none of us have seen what we saw down in Paradise. It’s on a much larger scale than anything we’ve dealt with here. That town will never be the same.”

Children waited in lines to thank them for their service. Community members brought them food and supplies, even if they had little to nothing themselves.

Fires, floods and snakes

Over the decades Gearhart fire has responded to fires, flooding and gales, literally serving as a lifeline to families isolated by the storm of 2007.

They’ve made untold numbers of ocean rescues. Firefighters helped find countless children and lost dogs.

In November 1956 they even responded to a fire at Cobra Gardens — victims of the fire were snakes on display at the building along U.S. Highway 101.

In 1956, Gearhart firefighters battled this blaze at Cobra Gardens on U.S. Highway 101 at the corner of Pacific Way. Many of the snakes survived the blaze, but later died as a result of asphyxiation from smoke or pneumonia after being left outside in the cold all night, the Signal reported at the time.

 

Gearhart Fire was on the scene in the aftermath of a horrific plane crash in 2008 that took the lives of two adults and three children.

I come from New York City, where of the 2,977 people killed in the 9/11 attacks, 413 emergency workers perished, 343 of whom were firefighters.

There are Gearhart Fire Department volunteers today who weren’t even born then.

When they built the fire station in 1958 the word “tsunami” was perhaps only a Sunday Times crossword puzzle word for what happened somewhere else.

Nothing has changed except the science. It’s more precise and the threat is more certain.

Station is ‘maxed out’

The firehouse is “sagging about 5 inches and we have a lake every time it rains hard,” fire committee chairman Gary Gillam said — in 2017.

Firefighters are “maxed out” on lockers to store their gear. There’s no space for new volunteers or even to have drills. If there’s a disaster, how will they even get their gear?

Sue Lorain, a member of the original firehouse committee, told me at the time about cracking cinderblock, crumbling walls — “not such a different scenario from the school,” she said.

Gearhart Elementary School is closing in spring 2020 — firefighters will still be in a deathtrap on Pacific Way.

City Planner Carole Connell sent out a revised tsunami map in February — 1,221 Gearhart tax lots are located in the “medium” risk zone; 1,861 would be impacted by a “large” and 2,130 or every property in Gearhart impacted by an “XXL” or “extra extra large.”

Gillam was back at this year’s town hall. “It’s taken me three years — or more — to fully compile the information shared tonight,” he said.

Input sought

Three sites are in contention: the current station, the city park at North Marion and Pacific Way, and what is referred to as the High Point site farther north on Marion.

Gillam and others shared what they called “ideas and concepts. They can or will be altered or changed. We want to know not just what you don’t like — but what you do like.”

The purpose of the strategy, Mayor Matt Brown said, is to spend the next three months collecting public input.

“I want everyone to tell me what location they like, which one they don’t like, and I want specific feedback how we can make any of these locations better or designs better,” Brown said on Jan. 29. “Pro, con, give us your ideas. Our only strategy is to listen for three months. I want some specific feedback how we can make any of these locations better, these designs better.”

Unofficial survey results show the city park site lagging behind High Point and the current site, Brown said at the city’s March 6 City Council meeting.

Fire Chief Bill Eddy said good information was presented at the January town hall.

“Most of this is getting out to the public what we’ve done so far and what their feedback is,” he said. “That’s all we want: their feedback.”

The decision of where to place the fire station remains with the people of Gearhart, he added.

“If the people feel the park is where they want to put the station, that’s the direction they’re going to go. If they like one of the other locations, that’s where the city will go. The people are going to direct where this location is going to be. It’s not going to be the city. It’s going to be the people, the citizens of Gearhart.”

Fire training in Salem in February. The Department of Public Safety Standards and Training provides training to more than 25,000 students each year throughout Oregon and at the Oregon Public Safety Academy.

 

Does he have a preference?

Eddy paused.

“All I know, is I don’t really care for it to be in this (current) location again, mostly because of the tsunami problem. One of the other two locations are fine. Even here, if it gets to be a worst-case scenario, I guess this is better than nothing.”

 

R.J. Marx is editor of the Seaside Signal and Cannon Beach Gazette, and covers South County for The Daily Astorian.

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DAILY ASTORIAN: Guest Column – Public should guide process on new Gearhart Fire Station

Click HERE for a direct link the the column at The Daily Astorian

Guest column: Public should guide process on new Gearhart fire station

The Gearhart fire station.

I’ve always felt that as elected officials, it’s our job to engage the public and allow our residents to guide the decision-making process. And I’ve always had great faith in the citizens of Gearhart to make the right decisions for our community. All of our faith has been tested the last several years as we have had difficult and complex issues to navigate, but as I have always predicted the citizens have made the right choices again and again.

Whether it’s electing officials who honor and uphold our Gearhart Comprehensive Plan or like in 2017, when our citizens overwhelmingly voted in favor of continuing common-sense vacation rental regulations, designed to keep Gearhart the quiet residential community we all know and love. These choices have continued the quality of life we all enjoy as full-time or part-time residents.

We are now undergoing a new public process to help determine a suitable location for a new Emergency Response and Resiliency Station to replace an aging fire station that was built more than 60 years ago. This is not an easy undertaking. While the majority of folks living in Gearhart may agree we need a new station, there are many questions we need to answer to get to the finish line — such as “how are we going to pay for a new station?” and “what location will serve the day-to-day needs of our community the best while providing emergency infrastructure and resiliency?”

These are not easy questions, but ones we can answer if we cooperate with one another and listen to other points of view.

Luckily, once again, this is going to be a public decision. In order to build a new station, it will have to go to a public vote, but even before we get to that point we are teaming up with every full-time and part time resident to help choose the right location. This three-month intensive public feedback process allows each resident to fill out an important questionnaire to give their feedback on their favorite location and how they think the community should pay for it.

All of the updated information is available on the Gearhart city website, including a video of our Jan. 29 informational town hall where we presented the public need for a new station and new information on emergency preparedness and the current threats posed by a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami.

This public process is about education as well. Residents and neighbors are getting together with folks who may have missed the town hall or have questions on the quickest and safest evacuation routes and how Gearhart can be resilient and sustainable in the midst of all types of emergencies. The education process is very important, as it’s a natural human reaction to attack information that might be contrary to what we thought we knew or what we may be afraid of.

Sometimes fear and misinformation can lead to cynicism, fake news on social media, or a reluctance to prepare ourselves and our families properly for a natural disaster. But once again, our citizens are rising to the occasion and are getting the correct information out, so residents can make choices based on facts that give us all the best chance to survive a tsunami-level event.

The feedback process will continue through April 29 and the results will be published in a public report that will be presented to the City Council. So far, I’ve heard from many of our residents, who have given valuable feedback that will help the council understand the needs of our community and how a new station can be designed and located to benefit the entire population.

We have always been lucky in Gearhart to have an amazing volunteer fire department that is certified and trained to deal with all types of emergencies, from fires to medical emergencies to natural disasters. A new station would be a great tool for our community, and in addition to our brave volunteers, give us continued peace of mind that we will be safe and protected.

I couldn’t be more excited to begin this public process with all of you. As always, I have faith that you will make the right decision for Gearhart.

Matt Brown grew up in Gearhart. He served for seven years on the Planning Commission and was elected mayor in 2016.