The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Local firefighter honored with statewide award


June 27, 2018

CRAIG WILSON, left, with colleague Carl Lemmer, has been named Oregon Department of Forestry Seasonal Firefighter of the Year.

Craig Wilson, a Sweet Home teacher who spends his summers as a member of the local Oregon Department of Forestry fire crew, has been named the state's Seasonal Firefighter of the Year .

"Craig's worked here for 20 years," said Neil Miller, Wildland Fire Supervisor for the Sweet Home Unit, who nominated Wilson for the award, which was presented Friday, June 22, in Mohawk by Deputy State Forester Nancy Hirsch. Sweet Home's Carl Lemmer was also honored for completing 30 years of service with ODF.

Miller, in his nomination letter, said Wilson is well-trained and knowledgeable in procedures for both ODF and the Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District, where he is a volunteer.

He called Wilson a "leader" and "mentor" for the entire 13-member summer crew, teaching skills ranging from operating a fire engine to GPS and compass use, firefighting tactics and hose lays.

Wilson also teaches classes and during field live-fire exercises during the Mid-Willamette Interagency Fire School, which is being held this week at Sweet Home High School and other points around the area.

Miller said Wilson is also someone who thinks "outside the box" and has introduced innovations and technology that have improved the Sweet Home unit's functions, including the use of the Avenza Maps app, which uses a device's built-in GPS to locate users' positions even when they are out of range of a network or internet connection.

"He's just an overall good firefighter," Miller said. "He's a teacher, he's a mentor, he works well with our new folks and the seasonal folks, teaching and the different things that he does."

Wilson started with ODF in 1998, after graduating from Sweet Home High School. His mother, Lupe Wilson, was a longtime U.S. Forest Service employee, who retired last year after 41 years at Sweet Home Ranger Station.

"I wanted a summer job, and I thought this would be a cool job out of high school, going through college, so I signed up. (Now-retired Sweet Home Fire Protection Supervisor) Jim Basting hired me."

It was an eventful season that first year, he said.

"We had lots of fires and I really learned a lot. I knew I was going to come back the next summer."

He has returned every summer, graduating from Oregon State University and continuing after taking a job at Sweet Home Junior High teaching physical education.

"Once I started teaching, I thought, 'You know, I could probably do this as a career along with teaching."

He said one of his favorite firefighting memories was a 2009 incident in the Quartzville area where

He worked on a fire on USFS land. His mother was also there – the first and only time they'd ever worked a fire together.

"She'd been doing that since I was a little kid," Wilson said.

Miller said Wilson's knowledge and experience with other agencies, particularly when helicopter support is needed, is invaluable. He cited two instances last summer in which Wilson was able to help SHFAD get LifeFlight choppers in to accidents in the mountains and airlift patients out.

"He's an EMT," Miller said. "He's got the aircraft knowledge to be able to direct helicopters in to fires and to help transport people if there's accidents. All of that he's done."

ODF SWEET HOME UNIT firefighters on this summer's crew include, in front, from left, Chad Calderwood, Carl Lemmer, Justin White, John Sims, Craig Wilson, Jackson Wojdylak and Neil Miller. In the rear, from left, are Tomas Rosa, Thayne Moretti, Jonathan Fisher, Noah Taraski, Justin Wolfe, Gracie Olson, Isaac Stephens, Kelton Gaskey and Matthew Luther.

He also cited a lightning-strike fire late last summer in the Quartzville Corridor on steep Campbell Global terrain below an active logging operation. Wilson was the first responder and made wise decisions, including calling in a Weyerhaeuser helicopter, which limited a "high potential fire" to a quarter of an acre late in the day.

"The chief forester for Campbell Global showed his appreciation and notified Salem protection staff of the Sweet Home Unit actions taken on this incident," Miller said in his letter. "He mentioned that the quick actions taken 'likely saved millions of dollars of equipment, timber, and resources.'

"What makes this incident even more extraordinary, Craig was in a part-time status with ODF and had taught his shift at the Sweet Home Jr. High and then came to work for our unit just after 3:30 p.m. He managed this incident until the early morning hours of the next day and then returned to his school job this same morning by 8 a.m."

Wilson said he was surprised to learn of the honor, especially when he found out it represented the entire state.

"I was really excited and honored," he said. "It's my passion, this job. I like doing it. It's nice to be rewarded for doing a good job, I think."


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