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Fire Crews Shorthanded


LEABURG, Ore. — A fatal wreck on the McKenzie Highway was one of four major calls in McKenzie Fire & Rescue’s District in a five hour time period Thursday.

Crews were pushed to their max figuring out how to cover all the calls as many crews are out fighting wildfires.

Right now there’s only one paid staff member manning the station for McKenzie Fire & Rescue in Leaburg.

It’s the reality for many stations in Western Oregon as many firefighters have been sent to fight wildfires across the state.

But what does it mean for emergencies in town?

It means relying primarily on volunteers to cover the calls.

Crews are ready for anything but on Thusday they got hammered.

“I got a little more tense than I usually get,” said Lt. Jim Ellis, McKenzie Fire & Rescue.

“Yeah I don’t know if crazy is a big enough word but it was definitely a crazy day,” said Firefighter Aaron Shaw, McKenzie Fire & Rescue.

It started around 2 p.m. Thursday afternoon.

A truck drove off the road, hit a tree and caught the tree on fire.

“We saw smoke and there was a bystander that ran across the road and he was in the process of getting the gentleman out of the vehicle,” said Shaw.

Shortly after — a second crash.

And then a third.

“It was hectic, it was chaotic.What was going through my mind was I sure hope things slow down so I can catch a break,” said Firefighter-EMT Matt Brooks, McKenzie Fire & Rescue.

And just when they thought they had a moment to rest — a fourth call — a fire threatening a station in a neighboring district.

They did this all with one paid staff member and several volunteers to handle the influx of calls.

“With staff available, you can pretty much guarantee a response of trained people. With no staff available, you are organizing and getting a hold of volunteers to see if they’re in district,” said Brooks.

There are four paid staff members at McKenzie Fire & Rescue.

Three of them are currently helping with efforts at the Canyon Creek Complex in John Day.

The hope is they return soon to their families, and to relieve some of the stress for crews in district.

We’re told some of the crews will return from John Day Friday night.

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