Tom Kerr says he was surprised to learn just a few weeks ago that he had been nominated for the prestigious Oregon Volunteer Firefighters Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Kerr has served for 50 years as a volunteer firefighter in Curry County.
During a ceremony at the association’s annual conference June 26-29 in Redmond, Kerr was recognized for his contributions, although he did not receive the award itself.
“There was a gentleman from Corbett who actually got the award,” Kerr said. “He has 58 years in as a volunteer. (But) I felt pretty good to be honored. It’s not too many that have done this for that length of time.”
Kerr remains active as assistant chief of the Brookings Fire and Rescue Department. “I still enjoy it,” he said, “just being with the guys and the gals, and the excitement of it.
“It is a lot of fun and you build good relationships.”
Kerr began his tenure as a member of the junior firefighters and would accompany his father, the Brookings Fire Department’s chief, on fire calls. His grandfather also was involved with the fire service.
Kerr said he has seen numerous changes over his five decades of volunteering. For example, “When I first started, it was unheard of to have women in the fire department, but now they are a vital part of the service.
“And it is more dangerous today to be a firefighter. In my career, we have had a lot of deaths.
“In the past, you just held it in and went home and didn’t deal with it. Now, we have debriefing following such events, which include immediate counseling.
“There are terrible statistics that show that the suicide rate for police and fire is way above normal, directly linked to what those first responders must deal with every day.”
Meantime, Kerr and his family have operated the Brookings Ace Hardware store for half a century as well. “I am always active at work,” he said, “always down working the floor. It’s my active lifestyle.”
The Brookings Fire Department has two paid staff members, a chief and a captain, plus a 20-member volunteer staff. Kerr said Brookings is actively seeking additional volunteers.
“If we get a fire, there may be only the paid staff that show up,” he said, “so we need more volunteers. They don’t have to actively fight fires. There are other jobs that can be done.”
How many more years will Kerr remain a fire service volunteer?
“I probably won’t make it another 50 years,” he noted. “It all depends on how well the body holds up. It’s a never a given of how long we have.”
That said, “I’ve held all positions in the department and I still like to put the wet stuff on the red stuff.”