Forester honored for 40 years of ODF service

The Oregon Department of Forestry recently presented Jim Basting with a plaque commemorating 40 years of service with the agency.

Basting, 61, is a Forest Protection Supervisor with the Sweet Home Unit.

A Grants Pass High School graduate, he worked at a gas station for a couple of years before becoming a firefighter.

Basting got into the fire service while attending Oregon State University in forestry, he said. He needed to work anywhere in forestry for six months before he could graduate.

He went down to the local forestry office to see if he could even apply for a job there, he said. The office hired him and put him to work for the next five summers.

“I started in Grants Pass in the summer of ’69,” Basting said. He was assigned to a patrol area with a truck and a driver. The next year, he turned 21 and was old enough to be a fire patrol officer. He did that for four summers.

During the winters, he worked for the Oregon Department of Transportation one year, during the first gasoline crunch,

1972-73, when the price of gasoline went from 30 cents per gallon to 45 cents and eventually to 60 cents. Another winter, he worked in timber sales with the ODF.

Then he went to the ODF Santiam Office in Lyons, which worked with Linn, Clackamas and Marion counties’ combined fire protection districts.

In 1974, Basting went to work full time for the Linn Protective Association, and in November 1977 he began working for the Sweet Home Unit.

“I had determined I liked this kind of work,” he said. “I enjoyed the fire thing and all aspects of it.”

He particularly enjoyed going to work and staying in Sweet Home, he said. Sweet Home doesn’t have a huge fire load. Sweet Home has several small fires a year, 25 to 30, along with smoke chases; but it doesn’t generally have the large fires like the southern and eastern part of the state.

“It’s enough activity it’s fun, but it’s not so overwhelming you can’t have a life,” Basting said, plus it comes with a bonus: Sweet Home is on the east side of the valley with all of the fun outdoor activities.

“I think I stumbled into something that was just great for me,” he said.

Basting is married to Donna. They celebrated their 39th anniversary in December.

“Donna and I met working at the Oregon Department of Forestry,” he said. “I was a forest officer, and she was a lookout.”

They have four children, each with their own families, including Shana Heywood of Arizona, Christine Rudge of Redmond, Seth Basting of Lebanon and Rex Basting of Eugene. They have 10 grandchildren.

Rex, who is in graduate school, works on the fire crew in Springfield during the summers.

Basting is close to retirement, but he hasn’t decided when, he said. “It’s certainly on the horizon.”

In 40 years, he said, the basics haven’t changed, but the technology and training have changed dramatically.

Forty years ago, fire school was 10 guys in a garage with a gravel floor and a man talking.

“I can’t even tell you what he said,” Basting said. “I think it was something like, ‘Don’t get hurt. You won’t like it,” along with a comment about not wanting to tell parents their children were dead.

Fire recruits spent half a day in a hands-on field exercise with experienced firefighters instructing them what to do and what not to do.

Now, fire school lasts a week and training includes another couple of weeks of classes on safety and other topics.

They had safety rules when he was new too, Basting said, but as long as a firefighter wasn’t speeding everywhere or crashing a truck, they were doing all right.

“I’m sure someone must’ve talked to us about fire weather,” Basting said. “But I just don’t remember.”

Most of what he learned and remembered came from veterans instructing him at fires.

“I guess one of the things I’ve noticed has changed a lot is the vehicles,” he said. When he started, he used a 1965 Ford pickup with a steel 150-gallon tank and gasoline-powered pump.

Since then, the tanks have become some form of “poly-plastic,” he said. Chainsaws and pumps are more dependable, smaller and start easier.

Equipment, in general, is nicer, he said. Now, firefighters have GPS, computers, infrared fire detectors and better cameras.

Radios are more reliable, with repeaters on more mountaintops, he said, but even in the late 1960s and early 1970s, they thought their radios were great tools.

“We thought we’d died and gone to heaven,” he said.

The tools have changed, but fire crews still use an old-fashioned shovel and a Pulaski, a combination axe/hoe tool, he said.

Other combination tools are used, but “you’ve still go to go out and dig the line, pull hose uphill and carry the pump from the truck to the creek.”

From 1978 to 1998, Basting was on a state fire team as a division supervisor, usually working in the southern or northeastern part of the state, he said. Large fires are divided into different “chunks.” He would supervise one of those chunks.

He has been involved in several large fires in the Sweet Home area, including the 2,000-acre Calapooia fire in 1987. He also fought some escaped slash burns that got up to 1,000 acres in the 1980s, and in 2006, he helped fight the Middle Fork fire near Green Peter Reservoir.

Every three to five years, Sweet Home has a fire of consequence, 25 to 30 acres, and sometimes a large one, like the Middle Fork, he said.

The Sweet Home ODF employee who is closest to Basting’s service record is Ken Johnston, with 37 years, Basting said. Johnston has actually worked in Sweet Home longer than he has.

Basting said he worked with Ron Henthorne in the Sweet Home office for 25 years, and the people he works with are what he enjoys most out of the job.

“Forestry has been a great group to work with,” he said. ” It’s a lot of fun, but we get a lot of work done too.”

“You don’t remember every crew kid,” Basting said. “But some stand out and do great things.”

One is a doctor, he said. Several are teachers.

They come to the office with a good work ethic and move on to a variety of successes, he said.

“I’ve enjoyed working here,” Basting said. “I’ve met and worked with some great people over the years.”

He appreciates the other agencies, which have grown much closer than they were 40 years ago as they have had to share resources, Basting said. Among them are the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the local fire departments, such as Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District.

“It can be a great deal of frustration and distress when things aren’t going well on the fire line,” he said. But, he added,

afterward, when the fire’s out, people like him can lean back and think, “They pay me to do this.”