As climate change progresses, firefighters all over the world are facing the same scenarios.
It’s presented the chance for a partnership between a station right here in Central Oregon and another from across the world.
For the past two weeks, four firefighters from the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service have been visiting the Sisters-Camp Sherman fire station. It’s a partnership that began in 2014, when Sisters fire chief Roger Johnson met former fire chief John Bonney from Hampshire.
“They were at a conference together and having some discussions regarding wildfire response, and the fact that Hampshire is starting to see more wildfire response,” said Tim Craig, Deputy Chief of Operations for the Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District. “Between the two of them, brilliant guys came up with the idea to get our firefighters going back and forth across the ocean and learning from each other.”
The first visit bred success. The team from Hampshire got to help out on the Canyon Creek Fire in John Day in 2015, which gave them the opportunity to see wildfires on a larger scale.
Since then, a team has come to visit every summer except during pandemic years and a team from Sisters has also gone to visit the Hampshire station for training.
Jack White has been a firefighter in the southern England county for five years, and this was his first time visiting the states. He said the hospitality they have witnessed locally has been unmatched.
“We’ve gone over to other firefighters and other people’s houses in the community for dinner,” White said. “The chief had us the first night, and we’d just got off the plane and we were all knackered, and we had amazing barbecue and we were like ‘Wow. This is just the start!’ and it’s just exceeded every expectation.”
During the visit, wildfire training has remained a focus. In a Central Oregon summer, it’s not hard to find real-life experience.
“We had the opportunity to go up to the Miller Road Fire which was up in Tygh Valley for some observational work with the state Fire Marshal’s office team,” Craig said. “We were able to send them just a couple of days ago to Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue which is the largest fire district in the state.”
“We got taken up to the training pad the other day,” White added. “And we had to dig a line around a wildfire, which I had never done before. So we all got a chance to use the different tools, and everyone shouting, ‘Take more, take more! Take less, take less!’ That integration with the crews was just amazing.”
In recent years, they’ve added an emphasis on the integration of fire and EMS. In the United States and in Central Oregon, the two are combined, while they are usually separate services in England.
“Hampshire is a little bit different from I think a lot of the fire brigades in the U.K. in that they’re starting to integrate EMS into the fire service,” Craig said.
Group Manager Andy Weeks from the British fire team said it’s a recent development for them.
“We have a level of training in terms of medical response,” he said. “We’ve started to trial send our fire appliances out to support with those medical emergencies.”
Between the two countries, there are a few other differences.
“The vehicle behind you is a water tender, we call it a water carrier. Our water tender is a very different appliance, kind of like one of these,” Weeks said, gesturing to one of the fire engines in the station.
“They call them engines, we call them trucks or appliances,” White added. “We don’t have an engineer on our trucks. An engineer to me is someone who fixes a car.”
But the similarities are what’s kept the partnership going for all these years.
“We’ve figures out that firefighters are kind of the same across the world, we’ve got a really similar mentality, a drive for community and for customer service,” Craig said. “I’ve made some lifelong friends, people who I’ve stayed connected with through social media. That’s kind of the intangible and the unintended benefit of the program is these long-term friendships, and I know that I’m not the only one at Sisters who’s developed these long-term friendships.”
“Sisters is just fantastic,” Weeks said. “The fact that we have this arrangement, we have these friendships, we have the ability to do this change is just fantastic. It’s a great place for us to come to because we get to see the wildfire element of it, we get to see the medical side of it and we get to see the firefighting side of it so we kind of get all the bits that we really want to look at.”
The British team also said they had taken time to enjoy the natural wonders around Central Oregon and the state while they have been here, including paddling at Three Creeks and visiting Crater Lake.
White says Sisters itself has amazed him.
“Sisters, what a beautiful town,” he said. “Walking five minutes up the road and you’re in miles and miles of trails and cycling…I can’t fault it!”
The Hampshire & Isle of Wight firefighters leave Central Oregon on Friday morning. They will prepare to welcome two Sisters-Camp Sherman firefighters for training at their station in late September.