Jim Basting hanging up fire helmet after 42 years

Sean C. Morgan

After more than 42 years in the fire service, Jim Basting, 62, is retiring from the Oregon Department of Forestry as a forest protection supervisor with the Sweet Home Unit.

“I’ll miss it quite a bit,” Basting said. “I’ll miss the people especially.”

Turning 63 next month, “I figure it’s probably time to retire,” he said.

“I started as a seasonal in July of 1969,” Basting said. “I worked summers there in Grants Pass.”

Then he went to work permanently for the ODF before going to to Lyons with and joining the Linn Fire Patrol, which contracted with the Linn Forest Protection Association, in 1974.

The Linn Forest Protection Agency is a group of landowners who contract for fire protection services. Now they pay taxes to the state in exchange for the protection service from the ODF.

“We did the same work, had the same paychecks as the ODF,” Basting said. He worked for the Fire Patrol until July 1979, moving to Sweet Home in 1977.

“That’s when we switched over to the ODF,” he said. The LFPA was one of the last associations in the state to switch over to ODF.

After graduating from Grants Pass High School in 1967, he worked for a couple of summers as a gas station attendant. He attended Oregon State University, Lane Community College and then OSU again.

At age 20, he was attending OSU, and school requirements put him in the woods.

“I didn’t know anything about it,” Basting said. “When I was going to OSU, you had to have six months of forestry of some kind before you could graduate.”

He could have gone to work in recreation or something else in the woods, but he lived near an ODF office. He went there and inquired about a summer job.

The unit forester who hired him, H. Mike Miller, eventually became state forester, Basting said.

“I really enjoyed it,” Basting said. “I just enjoy the heck out of the people. The fire organization can be very serious when it needs to be, but you can have fun doing your work.”

That experience has carried on through the decades as dwindling numbers of personnel have forced agencies to cooperate more, he said. If there’s a fire, agencies have to have relationships with other agencies. His organization works well and has had good experiences with the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, private landowners and the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District.

In more than four decades, Basting has witnessed a number of changes in the industry.

“The technology has changed dramatically, but the strategy on the ground is still the same,” Basting said. “You’ve still got to get line around the fire.”

Back in the day, a firefighter had to get a compass and sniff out the fire, Basting said. These days, they’ve got GPS and technology to pinpoint the locations of fires.

Basting says 2006 was probably the most challenging fire season during his career. That year, Sweet Home had 17 lightning fires start in one storm in the Quartzville Corridor. That included the Rocky Top and Boulder Creek fire, which were the largest.

As with most fires on ODF-protected lands, firefighters could drive right up to them, but the terrain was steep, which is more typically a problem higher in the mountains in the national forest.

“I thought these were challenging fires,” Basting said. “We didn’t have the ease of access we’re used to.”

By the third or fourth day, Basting said, he recognized that the Sweet Home Unit wasn’t getting ahead of the fires and bumped the fire up to the next management level, bringing in many more resources from outside the district.

Later came the 1,000-acre Middle Fork fire, he said. Lee Vaughn and Basting were there with a Forest Service crew and ODF firefighters, a helicopter and two dozers, including one borrowed from Wes Staley. They thought they could contain that fire, but it got away.

“For me, the year of 2006 was a big deal, a big challenge,” Basting said. Often, the fire seasons aren’t particularly challenging. The firefighters deal with a few much smaller fires, and it’s just work putting them out.

Basting is leaving all this behind on Sept. 30.

“My wife (Donna Basting) and I are going on a mission for our church,” said Basting, who is a member of the Jesus Christ Church of Latter-Day Saints. He was still waiting Thursday to find out what his assignment is going to be. The mission will last a year and a half.

“It could be anywhere, pretty much doing anything,” Basting said. After the mission, the Bastings will regroup and see where their children are before settling back down and traveling a little to various monuments and parks.

They have four children, including Seth Basting of Lebanon, Rex Basting of Cottage Grove, Christine Rudge of Redmond and Shana Heywood of Gilbert, Ariz.

“I’d like to stay in Sweet Home,” Basting said. “I like it here. Donna would like more sunshine.”

Donna Basting was a substitute teacher at Sweet Home High School for six or seven years.

They have lived in Sweet Home for 34 years.

“I’ve liked it,” Basting said. “I think it was a great place to live and for the kids to grow up. I’ve enjoyed living here. Our boys enjoyed living here, playing ball. The folks I’ve met in town are generally good people.”