Firefighter reunion: Decades of service represented at Stayton get-together

October, 2015 Posted in Community
Jay Myers points to an old picture of the 1937 Ford Fire engine still used at the station for parades and special events. Submitted Photo.

Jay Myers points to an old picture of the 1937 Ford Fire engine still used at the station for parades and special events. Submitted Photo.

By Mary Owen

What do firefighters do when they get together?

“We fire up the grill, eat hot dogs, sit around and tell stories, see each other’s faces again,” said Jay Myers, host of a September reunion for the Stayton Fire District. “We had firefighters show up from as far away as Prineville, Dallas, McMinnville and Albany. Collectively they have between 70 to 100 years of service. At least five mayors in the city of Stayton have been volunteers.”

About 70 firefighters – some old, some still on staff, some new – came to Myers’ Stayton home Sept. 13. The gathering was the culmination of a year of planning after Myers and two of his firefighting friends who worked with him at the station in the ‘70s and ‘80s went to dinner.

“We had such a good time, we contacted a few more guys,” he said. “Our original goal was to work on the museum at the fire station, and it just kind of rolled into getting more people involved and having a reunion.”

A retired electrician who owned Stayton Electric, Myers has served as a volunteer for the Stayton Fire District for years.

“I joined as a volunteer 50 years ago, and was in for 23 years, serving as president of the volunteers, lieutenant, battalion chief and assistant chief,” he said. “In 1999, I joined the board of directors, a position I still hold.

“It wasn’t always easy,” he said of his firefighting days. “The weekly training, trying as a volunteer to coordinate family and job, was a real challenge. But it was always good to know that when you went into a building, the guy that had your back going in would still have it when you came back out.”

During his time, Myers said he was “able to fight some pretty good-sized fires – Stayton High’s grandstand fire in 1984 and the Philippi Ford fire in 1981.”

“I also worked on the ambulance as an EMT for seven years,” he added.

The highlight of his career was when Stayton Rural and city of Stayton fire districts merged in the ‘80s.

Donna Joy receives her family’s vintage pedal car, restored by Jay Myers. Jay Myers points to an old picture of the 1937 Ford Fire engine still used at the station for parades and special events. Submitted Photo.

Donna Joy receives her family’s vintage pedal car, restored by Jay Myers. Jay Myers points to an old picture of the 1937 Ford Fire engine still used at the station for parades and special events. Submitted Photo.

“And building a new fire station!” he added. “We’ve only had two paid fire chiefs since then, Ron Tegan and Jack Carriger.”

Myers said the Stayton Fire District today has seven paid positions, 19 support people and 49 volunteers serving in four stations: Elkhorn, Stayton, Mehama and Marion.

“In the 129 years, about 1,000 people have been involved in fighting fires in Stayton,” he said. “To me, that’s a testament to the board and the people who work there.”

In his spare time, Myers likes to restore kids’ pedal cars.  His first project was a fire truck, which is in his will to pass on to the SFD museum, he said.

Matt Aalto, a firefighter and EMT with the Stayton Fire District, is glad Myers found his new hobby.

“Jay restored a pedal car for my mom, Donna,” Aalto said. “Her dad had found it in a scrap yard and cleaned it up. She and her siblings played with it while growing up. After all the kids were grown, Mom made a point to always keep the car, even after she moved from Baraboo, Wis., all the way to Willamina, Ore. We grew up playing with that car as well, and that thing took a beating.” Stored in their garage for the past 30 years, the car meant a lot to the Aalto family.

“At the time, Mom had begun chemo and radiation therapy for lung cancer, and I thought that by having Jay restore her treasured car, it might add some happiness to her daily regime of cancer treatment,” Aalto said.

“Jay did some research, found some parts, coordinated a paint booth, custom matched the paint, and before I knew it, I was getting restoration updates and even pictures.

“He went above and beyond to complete the project fast and had it back to me within a few weeks. He even did some custom upholstery work and had a little seat cushion made with my mom’s name, Donna Joy, embroidered into it.”

 

After one of his mom’s last treatment appointments, Aalto presented her with the newly restored car.

“She almost didn’t recognize it until she felt the hood ornament and quietly exclaimed ‘wow’ under her voice,” he said. “After a few minutes of inspection, all she could say was ‘thank you’ over and over again.”

The car is now prominently displayed on a shelf under the window of the Aalto home, and Donna is still recuperating from her cancer treatments.

Five years on the job, Aalto also handles recruitment and retention for the district. He called the reunion “a great success,” a special event he was “proud to be a part of.”

“The fellas that were here before me are the ones that broke their backs building our communities,” he said. “It’s our job to do our best to keep some of their traditions and do right by the communities we serve.”

Aalto said a family bond is present in firefighting that is difficult to explain. “But you can actually see it now and then,” he added.

“The reunion was a perfect example of that. Some of the guys hadn’t seen each other in 10, 20, 30 years, and they picked up chatting like they left the conversation on hold over their last coffee break. They didn’t miss a beat!”

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