Kyle Anderson, electrician at Lookout Point Dam and volunteer firefighter in his hometown of Pleasant Hill, Oregon, understands the risks—perhaps more than most—of electrical-caused fires and wildfires.
He’s seen what can happen when power lines break, or trees and limbs get knocked into them and start fires, which is one of the possible causes for the Holiday Farm Fire that started near the Holiday Farm RV Park early Labor Day morning in the McKenzie River Valley.
Anderson was at the Pleasant Hill-Goshen Fire and Rescue station, on standby, like many other emergency first-responders who had been preparing ahead-of-time for a fire event. Everyone there was expecting trouble due to the foreboding weather forecast of high winds and low humidity, combined with an already dry season—a trifecta for extreme fire conditions.
Call to Duty
Anderson is no stranger to worst-case scenarios. With nine years of experience as a volunteer firefighter and emergency first responder, he is one of a few respond-from-home volunteers left in the Pleasant Hill - Goshen Rural Fire Protection District.
“The hard part of volunteering in the community where you’re from is that you know someone on every street, so when you get a call, as you are driving, you wonder who it’s going to be,” Anderson said.
Kyle Anderson shares what he’s learned and wants you to know:
“First and foremost, live prepared. It’s just like that little mask in an airplane which drops out when there’s trouble. You can’t be an asset to anyone else if you don’t have yourself and your family taken care of first. Everyone can make a difference when there is trouble, if they’re ready and available. Even if you’re not required to do anything initially, you will save resources that can be used to help solve the problem for others.
Second, defensible space around buildings and homes is a big deal. It’s not a guarantee, but it gives us a chance, and it helps prevent bad luck on your property from spilling over into your friends and neighbors’ lives.”
When asked why he does it, Anderson didn’t hesitate: “You do it so someone else doesn’t have to. A professor once told me, ‘Those who can, should,’ and that always stuck with me. I never liked that guy, but he had a point.”, Anderson said with a wink.
As a first-responder Anderson says he has to live his life a little differently and explains, “If you don’t have things set up, planned, equipment in good working order, you won’t be available to report to work or an emergency. The public is counting on us to get it done whether the world is falling apart around us or not.”
Power to Protect
Not only does the fire district Anderson volunteers for (and his neighboring districts) protect his hometown, but they also protect U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects nearby: Fall Creek, Blue River, Cougar, Dexter and Lookout Point dams and all the employees who work at them.
Additionally, as an electrician for the Corps, Anderson’s safety skills are always in play. “What I do at work and how I do it affects the wellbeing of everybody downstream and down the line,” he said. “Early in my career when I was wiring houses, the need to provide for safety and reliability hit me early. It was not lost on me that another young family would be tucking their children into bed in some of these rooms. They would be trusting my work on those power circuits and smoke detectors.”
Mission to Lead
Given Anderson’s knowledge and experience, it’s no surprise his district fire chief recommended him for the job when the Oregon Department of Forestry called looking for a local person to manage a highway task force in response to the destruction of the blazing out-of-control Holiday Farm wildfire.
During the course of 21 days, Anderson oversaw three to six crews with up to 44 people in total. The teams were comprised of staff from the Oregon Department of Transportation, Eugene Water and Electric Board and Lane Electric, who were responsible for managing over 25 miles of highway between Leaburg Dam and Rainbow, Oregon.
Anderson led heavy equipment operators, line crews and flaggers—men and women dedicated to keeping the highway and other roads clear of hazard trees, boulders and falling debris so emergency crews could get through. They used timber fallers and processors, brush rigs, excavators, low-boys, front end loaders, skidders and pickups to open and maintain access to structures like radio towers and Corps’ projects.
“My unique position helped to keep open and maintain access to our projects (Corps). I let operations know just how important those ‘non typical’ structures within the fire footprint are to the public,” Anderson explains.
At one point in the fire fight, Anderson’s team inherited the responsibility of structure protection. He ran the road crews and faller teams, putting out hot spots along the highway and side roads.
Thinking back on the experience, Anderson says, “You have to think on your feet as frequent critical missions pop up. You get real honest about what’s a priority and what’s not. It was hazardous and dangerous work and my team did great.”
“Road Group Anderson”
Even though everyone has a cell phone these days, radio is still the preferred communication method in the field and everyone gets a nickname. As the leader of the “Road Group,” Anderson became known as “Road Group Anderson.”
Anderson said that when he went to the incident command post to say goodbye and turn in his radio equipment on the last day, “…the command people made me feel like a rock star! They were happy to meet me and see who they’d been talking to. They hadn’t realized I’d been engaged on the fire since the day it started. I thought it was funny. I hadn’t realized I’d been on the radio so much, but I guess I was!”
Anderson added, “They said, ‘I was the glue that held the whole highway operation together‘ and they were happy to have me on the team, but none of that would have happened without the support of the Army Corps of Engineers! They were grateful the Corps supported me during the fight, because a change in leadership halfway through would have set things back considerably.”
Author’s Note: While Anderson is a longstanding volunteer firefighter in his community, he wanted us to know that in this situation he was put on his fire district’s payroll, as is the standard procedure during a major fire event. However, he plans to donate the funds to charity.
Personally, Kyle Anderson inspires me. His selfless service to others, strong sense of duty and integrity combined with his extraordinary leadership skills and heart of gold, make him a true hero in my book. We need more volunteers like Kyle, who are willing to go above and beyond, to do whatever is called for, even if it means putting themselves in harm’s way.
“Volunteers don’t necessarily have the time, they just have the heart.” – Elizabeth Andrew