Coburn hangs up the axe

Tim Coburn, one of the most recognizable faces of the Keizer Fire District is retiring after a 35-year career in firefighting. His last day is March 30.

A Keizer native and a 1984 graduate of McNary High School, began his career as a volunteer with the district in August 1987. Within 12 years he was a paid professional firefighter. It was the result of his quick action when he saw dark smoke one day while eating lunch at home. He peeked around and found some arborvitae ablaze. 

There was nobody around. No one answered when he banged on the door of the house. He grabbed a water hose at the home and starting spraying the arborvitae. 

“I heard a siren go off, saying to myself, ‘Come on, come on,’ Coburn remembered. Seconds later he heard the fire trucks heading his way, to his relief.

Sam Orcutt,,one of the responding firefighters, later suggested that Coburn should sign up to be a volunteer firefighter. He did. He signed the necessary paperwork and soon was in training.

There was a life saving incident that happened when he was 20 years old that also figured into his later career. While living at home, getting ready to leave, he heard his mother yelling at his father, Marvin. Tim went to the living room to see what was happening. His mother said he couldn’t wake his father, who was sitting on a couch. 

Tim checked for a pulse, found none and discovered he was not breathing. He pulled his dad from the couch, laid him on the floor and began CPR. He instructed his mother to call 9-1-1. Tim continued CPR until the medical unit arrived. Marvin was rushed to the hospital. He survived.

Later, Dan Woolley of the fire district asked Tim to come down to the fire station. When he arrived he was presented with a plaque honoring him for saving his father’s life. 

Over more than three decades with the Keizer Fire District, Tim Coburn has seen the best and the worst of life, interacting with people in the community. “In the old days, there were two or three calls a day,” he remembers, “Today, we have up to 20 calls a day.” Ninety percent of calls today are medical related.

When asked about memorable calls he’s been part of, Tim is quick to name two. The first was an OB(obstetric) call. A woman was 37-weeks pregnant and ready to give birth. Tim and others were in the back of the ambulance when the baby arrived. “It was a proud day,” said sai.

The second memorable call was less joyful. He and other firefighters responded to a house fire. Tim was on the second crew to enter the house. Looking about the crew observed lots of jars. “Uh oh,” he said to himself, “We should get out.” It was a meth lab, within blocks of the Keizer fire station. Tim and the others had to return to the station to shower to remove any meth on themselves. 

Of his career, Tim’s proudest achievement is being a mentor to younger firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMT). He shares his own experiences with new employees, showing them ‘the ropes.’

Though Tim does not seek the limelight, he has been honored for his work and his character over the years. Since his first award, Volunteer of the Year, in 1996, he has been named EMT of the Year (2003), Employee of the Year (three times, in 2006, 2012 and again in 2022), Firefighter of the Year (2018) and Marion County Firefighter of the Year (2007). 

Tim is popular in the Keizer fire hall, many affectionately calling him Timmy. His biggest fan has to be Chief Jeff Cowen. 

“I wish I could clone him,” Cowen said. “How can we possibly replace him? He is an anchor of the Keizer Fire District. He’s a great firefighter, he’s a great EMT.

“He’s a compass for me of the organization. When you ask for his opinion, it can be relied on. I’m absolutely delighted that he gets to retire in a real celebratory way. On the fire chief side, I need five people to replace him.”

Tim Coburn loves what he has been doing since 1987. He would recommend a career as a firefighter to anyone. He exhibits the traits he said a good firefighter should have: honesty, good attitude, get along well with others and be able to think quick on your feet.

Like all men and women in the fire and EMT field, he has been affected by the things seen. How does he and his brethren across the nation deal with devastating calls? He talks to others.

“Some of the calls stay with you, you never forget them,” he said.

Deputy Fire Marshall Ann-Marie Storms said that everyone at the district watches out for each other. “You pick up on subtle clues,” she said, about others are behaving in light of returning from horrible calls. “We’re fixers,” Storms said about firefighters and EMTs, “we don’t ask for help, we think we can fix it ourselves.” Tim picked up that theme saying that talking to others is key to dealing with the stress of the job. “We all joke with each other. If you’re serious all the time, it will eat you up.”

Tim and his wife, Heidi, have plans for his retirement. They will travel in their new fifth wheel recreational vehicle and visit people they haven’t been able see. He will continue his hobby of woodworking, working in the yard, fishing and camping. And he has a long Honey-do list of chores to accomplish.

Whatever he does in retirement will most likely be done with focus he brought to 33 years with the Keizer Fire District.

The public is invited to his retirement party, scheduled for Wednesday, March 30, at the Keizer Fire Station, 661 Chemawa Rd. NE, from 2 to 4 p.m.