Lt. Chris James was honored as Keizer Fire District’s Volunteer Firefighter of the Year. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Ask Lt. Chris James, Keizer Fire District volunteer firefighter of the year, which of the calls he’s been on he remembers the most and you’re likely to get an unusual answer.

“All the good calls – the ones people expect you to remember – those are the ones I forget. I remember all the ones where I made little mistakes,” James said.

As an example, James offers up the time when he spiked a drip bag with a needle allowing too much flow through the tubing. It was nothing huge, nothing that would have likely endangered the patient and they even caught it before the IV needle was set, but it’s one that he remembers.

“I could drive you to the house, show you where I was standing, everything. Little things like that are what I remember,” James said.

James was honored with as volunteer firefighter of the year two weeks ago, but like the good calls, it’s something he takes with a grain of salt.

“When I got into the Fire Explorers program at 14, I did it because I liked giving back to the community, when you sign up as a volunteer anywhere that’s what you’re signing up to do,” he said.

From a young age, James was interested in being involved. He can rattle off a plethora of volunteer and extra-curricular activities he was involved in through high school. When it came time to cut back, he had to choose between giving up Boy Scouts or his post as a KFD Explorer, he chose to stick with the fire district – he particularly liked the way it was ever-changing.

“Every aspect is challenging. It’s a very dynamic thing. There’s always something different on every call, even if it’s just a tiny thing,” James said.

Since he was five years old, James had hoped to become a lawyer with the goal of working on the international stage in Geneva, Switzerland, but average academic performance and the mounting cost of achieving that dream prompted him to set it aside.

After high school, he turned in his cadet patches for those of a regular volunteer firefighter at KFD and a colleague at the fire district helped him get into sales of emergency equipment.

It wasn’t until two years ago, during a visit to a friend’s house in Mexico, that James decided to turn his focus to becoming a career firefighter.

“Not too long before that he’d given up a great job at the hospital because he decided what he really wanted to do was to fly. He dropped the job, moved to Arizona and got all his licenses,” James said. “Seeing him, and how happy he was, got me thinking about my own life.”

Sales was providing a more-than-comfortable living, but it wasn’t nearly as rewarding as his volunteer work with the fire district.

“I could be comfortable or I could be happy. It’s an amazing feeling when someone calls you to help out in a situation they can’t handle, whether it’s helping someone from the floor to a chair or in the face of life or property loss,” he said.

James quit his job and enrolled in the emergency services program at Chemeketa Community College, he’ll be taking the test that will allowing him to apply for career jobs later this month.

While James cannot recall the specifics of his best or most rewarding calls, there is a thread that unites all of them, and he’s well-aware of that.

“There’s much more happening when someone calls us because their having an upset stomach. There’s depth to it,” James said. “It’s that they live by themselves and their kids live four hours away. There’s always more to it and we need to make sure we’re not addressing just the house fire or the tummy pain. There’s a multitude of things behind any call that there isn’t any training for that you still need to take care of.”