• Special report: Ashland firefighters ever-ready

    The crews at Ashland Fire & Rescue have to be ready to rock at the drop of a hat
  • It's 7 o'clock on a smoky Monday night in Ashland, and the firefighters/paramedics of Shift C at Ashland Fire & Rescue's Station No. 1 have just flopped down on their recliners in the upstairs TV room to watch "NCIS."
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  • It's 7 o'clock on a smoky Monday night in Ashland, and the firefighters/paramedics of Shift C at Ashland Fire & Rescue's Station No. 1 have just flopped down on their recliners in the upstairs TV room to watch "NCIS."
    The five men and their battalion chief haven't slept since their shift began 24 hours ago, and they spent the night responding to eight medical emergencies. Time to flip up the leg rests and lean back to let their dinner of barbecue chicken and cheesy mashed potatoes digest.
    Then the alarm sounds.
    Over the intercom, a dispatcher gives the details: a single vehicle rollover at 521 Eagle Mill Road. It's north of town, about 10 minutes from the fire station at East Main Street and Siskiyou Boulevard.
    The men jump up and run to the pole, sliding down one by one to the engine bay.
    Tim Hegdahl, 29, and Trent Stoy, 47, race to ambulance 8831, throwing on their bright yellow jackets and helmets. Justin Foss, 34, Kelly Burns, 43, and Shannon Turner, 49, bolt to engine 8801. Within 90 seconds, both vehicles are out the bay door, their red lights flashing and sirens booming.
    Sporadic surges of adrenaline — in between training, dinner and episodes of "NCIS" — are part of the job.
    "Firefighting is definitely not boring or static," fire Chief John Karns says. "You never know what the next alarm will bring."
    The five men of Shift C represent 75 years of experience in firefighting combined. All are paramedics. All are married.
    Hegdahl, the youngest with more than five years' experience, grew up in Ashland, as did Turner, who has 17 years. Stoy, who hails from Nevada, has 20 years under his belt. Foss, originally a North Dakotan, has been a firefighter/paramedic for 10 years, and Burns, a former Alaskan, for 23.
    As they arrive at a curve on Eagle Mill, they discover a red Chevy pickup flipped on its top at the side of the road. A 65-year-old man hangs upside down, trapped by his seat belt. His head is covered in blood.
    Jackson County Fire District No. 5 crews from Talent have arrived already. They and the Ashland firefighters frantically crawl through the broken front window on their hands and knees, passing extrication tools such as spreaders and cutters back and forth.
    "He appears to be communicating with the guys," a District 5 firefighter says to another.
    The idling engines and shouts of the firefighters fill the night air, heavy with smoke from remote wildfires being fought by their brothers and sisters in yellow. For the Ashland men, their jobs are far more about responding to medical calls and vehicle crashes than battling blazes, but their fires over the past 10 years have been some of the most memorable in Ashland history: Callahan's Lodge in 2006. The Oak Knoll fire in 2010.
    The firefighters worry they may have to remove the pickup's door to free their patient, but they risk the entire vehicle collapsing. They must work fast. For all they know, they're dealing with a traumatic head injury that could take their patient's life at any moment.
    They decide to use the opening they have. Two men lie on their backs in the pickup and pass the patient through the broken window to three firefighters on the outside. They carefully place the man on the yellow stretcher, wrap a brace around his neck, and load him into the back of the ambulance.
    "I was on my way to dinner at my girlfriend's house," the patient says to Stoy, who is cleaning blood off the man's face and arms with alcohol swabs. His wounds aren't life-threatening.
    "Well, I think you're going to be a little late," Stoy jokes.
    "Code 1," Stoy yells to Hegdahl, who is driving the ambulance. No need for sirens or lights.
    Within 15 minutes, ambulance 8831 pulls into Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford, where Stoy and Jon Gavin, firefighter/paramedic for District 5, hand off their patient to trauma nurses in red scrubs.
    Most firefighters would tell you the surges of adrenaline are one of the perks of the job. But after a full career as a firefighter, the adrenaline rush has its consequences. Heart attacks are one of the major causes of firefighter fatalities, Karns says.
    "It is generally felt that the unpredictable and spontaneous transition from a normal work environment to a dynamic emergency or fire scene puts considerable stress on the cardiovascular system," Karns says.
    It's something every firefighter/paramedic must adapt to, says Ashland Battalion Chief David Shepherd.
    "It's a great job with great benefits, and we can retire five years earlier than other employees in the retirement system," he says. "The reason is, though, that a lot of firefighters die fairly young."
    Not every call is a life-or-death emergency. But that's not what firefighting is about, Turner says. It's about making a difference.
    He recalls a Sunday morning when a young girl in a white dress ran out to her garage with a balloon in her hand. She tripped down the steps and split the front of her head open.
    "Head lacerations bleed a lot," Turner says.
    He and the other responding firefighters/paramedics found the girl bleeding profusely from her forehead. Both she and her mother were hysterical.
    "It was one of the most horrific things for them," he says. "But I managed to calm the mother down and bandage up the girl's head."
    Turner summoned a volunteer firefighter to retrieve a teddy bear from the ambulance.
    "Now you need to give him a really good name and a really good home," he told the girl.
    Soon the girl and her mother were laughing and playing games with the bear.
    "That's what I do," Turner says.
    But there are times when even the most heroic of efforts can't save the day.
    It's a Saturday afternoon in September 2006, and it's 100 degrees outside. Humidity: zero.
    Then the alarm sounds.
    A kitchen fire has been reported at Callahan's Lodge near the Siskiyou Summit, some 15 minutes away.
    By the time Turner and other Ashland crews arrive, the popular, 59-year-old lodge and restaurant are engulfed in flames.
    "We pulled off the freeway and before you even dropped into the parking lot, I had to put my hand over my face, even with the window rolled up, to block my face from the radiant heat the fire was giving off," Turner recalls.
    Attired in full bunker gear — trousers with overall straps attached, boots, jacket, helmet, air tank, flash hood and axes or hoses, weighing a combined 100 pounds — the men battle the wall of flame as it tears through the roof and into the sky.
    A helicopter that happens to be in the area training with a bucket dumps water, but it turns to steam in the heat.
    The firefighters' biggest concern is the propane tank that would have leveled the entire area if the fire reached it, Turner says.
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