On Saturday, February 5, 2022 the Woodburn Fire District (WFD) honored members at the annual Firefighter Awards Banquet. Due to COVID restrictions that prevented the gathering last year, the event included award recipients for both 2020 and 2021.
Campaign ribbons for all district firefighters that served during the historic 2020 wildfires and the 2021 winter ice storm were presented. The 2020 Labor Day conflagrations resulted in the most devastating wildfires in the history of the state. During the event, WFD personnel and equipment were deployed across the region to assist residents of the Santiam Canyon and the North Oregon Cascades while others that remained in district were kept busy with numerous grass fires in the north Willamette valley.
WFD members that were involved in significant actions that resulted in the saving of life and property during the devastating fires received special recognition. Lieutenant Jon Koenig, Firefighter Raul Garza, and Student Firefighter Troy Jordan were awarded the “Oregon Fire Chiefs Meritorious Award of Valor”, for actions taken in the Santiam canyon during the night of September 7, 2020 in the evacuation and rescue of many residents and the protection of homes that were in the path of the fast moving wildfire. Also recognized with a unit commendation were eight volunteer and career firefighters that worked 24 hour shifts on September 8th and 9th in the protection of homes that would have been destroyed by fire on Wilhoit road southeast of Molalla.
Just five months after the wildfires, all WFD firefighters were again pressed into action in response to a fifty year winter storm that inundated the north Willamette Valley and Cascade foothills. A thick layer of heavy ice brought down hundreds of trees and powerlines and resulted in power outages for more than 250,000 residences that lasted up to ten days. As Marion County was declared a state of emergency, Woodburn Fire District members answered 176 calls during the first four 24 hour operational periods.
As the ice storm power outages continued, some residents began to use makeshift means of heating and cooking that resulted in many separate incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning that required the hospitalization of 21 people. The most significant incident occurred on Sunday February 14th, 2021 involving six members of a Woodburn family that were found unconscious in their home. Volunteer Firefighters Abigail Frey, Kegan Montgomery, Jared Redmon, Mathew Smith and Noah Wierstra received a unit commendation for their quick and effective actions that resulted in saving the lives of two adults and four children.
This year, fire district members voted to honor Long Bros. Building Supply with the “Community Partnership” award for their continual support of several non-profits and the fire district. Fire Chief Joe Budge stated, “Kelley and Mark are always there to help the fire district and the community in times of need. They provided hundreds of carbon monoxide detectors during the ice storms, donated supplies for the Woodburn CERT volunteers, brought drinks and snacks for fire crews during the Aware Food Bank fire and much more. We are very appreciative for the support that they provide the fire district and the community as a whole.”
2021 Firefighter of the Year Awards were presented to Engineer Alex Weninger and Volunteer Firefighter Matt Smith. “Both Alex and Matt exemplify the personal character, values and abilities that embody the very best qualities of a firefighter”, commented Chief.
Engineer Weninger is a 8 year career veteran of the fire district that is best known for his positive and supportive attitude. He utilizes these skills as he serves his fellow firefighters as a leader in the district’s peer support team, career member representative in the labor management group and community CPR instructor to name a few. “In recognition of his outstanding work ethic, humble and compassionate service to others and his commitment to the district and community, it is an honor to recognize Engineer Alex Weninger as the 2021 Career Firefighter of the Year,” stated Chief Budge
Volunteer Firefighter Matt Smith is a ten year member of the fire district. In 2020, he helped prevent the destruction of homes from the wildfire on Wilhoit Road, and in 2021, played an important role in saving the lives of the Woodburn family overcome by carbon monoxide poisoning. Firefighter Smith has routinely answered the call for duty day or night. “Without the faithful service provided by Firefighter Smith and other volunteer members, the Woodburn Fire District would not be able to effectively meet the emergency response needs of the community,” commented Chief Budge.
“The awards banquet provides an opportunity to reflect not only on the extraordinary actions of our firefighters during the historic events of the last two years, but also the selfless actions taken every day in service to our community. I am humble and proud to work alongside the members of WFD whom I count among the best that I have had the opportunity to serve with during 35 years in the fire service,” commented Chief Budge “They show up every day and work hard with humility, compassion and excellence.”
Other members recognized at the banquet for their outstanding service to the fire district and community includes:
Jared Redmon, Student Volunteer of the Year 2020
Abigail Frey, Student Volunteer of the Year 2021
Noah Wierstra, Rookie of the Year 2021
Ray Fahey, Volunteer of the Year 2020
Ryan Johnson, Career Firefighter of the year 2020