New CCFR firefighters sworn in, water rescue teams recognized


Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue had much to celebrate on Jan. 31, as new firefighters were sworn into district service and current personnel received commendation for their marine rescue efforts.

In the engine bay of CCFR’s east Ridgefield station, firefighters and family gathered for a ceremony to induct the new staff members and recognize those who responded by boat to help stranded victims.

The new hires were the first batch of additions to the district funded by an emergency medical services levy that was approved by voters with roughly 62.5% in favor of the measure in August.

The funding from the levy of 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value will allow the district to utilize three firefighters and a paramedic on every response crew, CCFR Chief John Nohr said. It will also allow for full staffing at the district’s station at the Clark County Fairgrounds, which CCFR shares with Clark County Fire District 6.

“We were already doing a good job on fires, but this is really going to help us out delivering some better service to the community,” Nohr said.

The first hires for the year were lateral transfers who came from other departments. Nohr said experience among the hires ranged from two to 22 years. The new firefighters came from departments as far away as Spartanburg, South Carolina.

“We’re really happy to have seven experienced firefighters here today joining the organization that can bring their experiences, bring their great attitudes here and help us move forward,” Nohr said.

The new hires were set to start six weeks of training to learn the specifics of the district. Next month, the district will hire 14 entry-level firefighters, Nohr said.

Since he was hired as chief for CCFR in 2016, Nohr said he has been impressed with the overall quality of the department’s personnel.

“It is an incredible bunch of men and women that work hard, train hard, and I would take them to any fire out there,” Nohr said. 

He added that any 15 firefighters at CCFR could compete with a set of the best 15 from big departments like Portland and Seattle.

“These firefighters here do an incredible job,” Nohr said.

Marine rescue teams recognized

The night wasn’t just about new hires for the district. Nine other CCFR members received recognition for their work on marine rescues.

Firefighters received a fire chief’s certificate of merit for their response to two incidents on the Columbia River, one in late December and one on New Year’s Day. The ceremony came only days after the district’s third marine response on the North Fork Lewis River, making for a busy several weeks for CCFR’s marine program.

Nohr read narratives of each response, which dealt with adverse conditions to find the people in need of help.

In the first response, four CCFR personnel responded to an elderly woman who was stranded on Goat Island in the Columbia River northeast of Woodland. Nohr noted the U.S. Coast Guard declined to respond, something the chief said happens rarely.

“Our folks stepped up when nobody else would,” Nohr said.

The woman and her husband made an encampment on the remote island, but after the man left to buy groceries, he was unable to return due to the weather and water conditions. Facing a night rescue, high waves and freezing rain which interfered with the rescue boat’s radar, the firefighters, with the assistance of the woman’s son, were able to find the woman. They took the woman and her son to safety.

In the second response, five district personnel responded to a man who was clinging to a piling in the Columbia River near the mouth of the Lewis River. A man had paddled out from Austin Point to fish when his kayak capsized.

Responders from the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office and Cowlitz County Fire District 1 were able to help find the man ahead of CCFR’s marine rescue. At the time of the Jan. 1 night rescue, the district did not have any on-duty boat pilots in its marine rescue program and off-duty pilots were not able to respond. One of the on-duty personnel, firefighter Sean Kearns, had extensive off-duty boating experience and took up the task.

Though the weather was calm, a dense fog formed on the river. The stranded man had gone unconscious moments before the CCFR rescue boat arrived. He was taken onboard and received CPR and treatment. The victim was then placed in an ambulance that was waiting near a rickety dock on the Lewis River and was taken to the hospital.

Nohr said the responses demonstrated good problem-solving in the face of adverse conditions like bad weather and waves or dense fog that reduced visibility.

“We can take just about any situation, apply about 30 seconds of thinking about it, come up with a plan, put it in place and fix it,” Nohr said.