Philomath Mayor Eric Niemann

Mayor Eric Niemann

September 11th is a date emblazoned in human history as a day of terror and tragedy. For many Americans, 9/11 was an attack on our country, our people and our way of life. Today, almost 18 years after that horrific day, we remember the terrible loss and continue to honor first responders for their extraordinary bravery in the face of such a tragedy.

While many people fled the Twin Towers and Pentagon after they had been struck, first responders urgently rushed toward the massive infernos, risking their lives in order to save the lives of others. First responders were able to save many that day, but yet 2,996 people died, including 343 firefighters and 68 other first responders. We honor their ultimate sacrifice.

We also want to honor the heroism of our own first responders who, daily, put their lives at risk to protect and serve here in the city of Philomath and our surrounding rural communities. We are thankful for the nine sworn police officers that serve in the Philomath Police Department as well as the 11 paid and 35 volunteer firefighters that make up the Philomath Fire & Rescue team.

In 2018, Philomath Fire & Rescue responded to 700 calls for service. This breaks down to 511 medical calls and 189 fire calls. In that same year, the Philomath Police Department answered and investigated approximately 980 crime and traffic incidents. As a combined effort, that means we had approximately 55 people in this community manage over 1,600 calls for service in a year. These are impressive service statistics! Our first responders do a lot for us!

With this in mind, I would like to highlight and honor a few of our first responders in the remainder of this article. They are some of Philomath’s heroes.

We honor people like Officer Jacob Coon, who was willing to change careers when he was inspired to serve his community as a member of the Philomath Police Department. At age 40, he attended the rigorous police academy administered by the Department of Public Safety & Standards Training in Salem. He graduated in May 2019 and is now training with other officers, helping keep our city safe.

We honor people like Officer Luke Sinclair, a 2014 Philomath High School graduate and talented high school athlete, who recently raised his hand to say that he will “protect and serve” the community of Philomath. He also attended the police academy in Salem and graduated last month. I had the honor and privilege of attending the graduations of both Officer Coon and Officer Sinclair this summer and felt a tremendous sense of pride as I listened to them take the oath of office.

We honor people like Officer Ted Vaughn, a 2012 Philomath High School graduate, who has a rich career of duty and service to his community. He served first as a volunteer firefighter for three years before becoming a police officer, a role he has served in for the last four years. I was impressed to learn that for a year or so, Ted served in both roles in Philomath at the same time. I recently had an opportunity to observe Officer Vaughn during a ride along and was impressed with the energy and professionalism that he brings to police work in our town.

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We honor our longtime veteran police Officer Mark Koeppe, who has supported numerous youth safety programs in our community over the past 20 years. He helped manage more than 50 kindergarten children at Clemens Primary School during our annual Safety Town program. Additionally, Office Koeppe leads the annual Bike Rodeo to teach our elementary school children about bicycle safety. Officer Koeppe also teaches hunter safety to middle school youth. His impact on the children or our community speaks to his care and concern for all of our citizens. We are grateful for everything he does to keep our youth and our community, safe.

We honor the service of Marcia Gilson who first served as an EMT with Philomath Fire & Rescue. Her 26-year career with the fire district was filled with innumerable emergency calls and countless CPR classes that she taught to young and old in our community. Her service to our community continues as she volunteers with the Philomath Police Department. Her dedication to the Philomath community is exceptional. She epitomizes the ideals of our “City of Volunteers.”

We honor people like Philomath Fire & Rescue Chief Tom Miller, along with firefighters Lindsay Taylor and Kyler Crocker. These three served on an emergency strike team responding to the horrific Camp Fire in Paradise, California, that completely devastated the town. They spent the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving helping our neighbors in California. Philomath Fire & Rescue also sent teams to the Garner Complex Fire in Grants Pass, where crews served on 24-hour shifts for almost a month. Remember to think of and thank them for what they did and for what they do for our community every day.

October 5 is another good day to consider our first responders. Philomath Fire & Rescue, partnering with Strengthening Rural Families, will be hosting the annual Open House and Health Fair on Oct. 5 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Fire & Rescue station, 1035 Main Street. Partnering regional safety groups include the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, Oregon Department of Forestry, Philomath Police and Mary’s Peak Search & Rescue, among others.

With public safety on the mind, we also need to consider the upcoming 9-1-1 service district that will be on the ballot in November. Our existing 9-1-1 agreement dates back to 1983 and has remained largely unchanged, despite the population of Benton County increasing 24% in the past 35 years.

The 9-1-1 Center experienced a 132% increase in dispatched calls for service over the same time period. Additionally, the number of calls dispatched within 60 seconds — a common industry benchmark — has dropped from 93% in 2006 to 71% in 2018. There simply aren’t enough dispatchers to keep up with the ever-increasing call volume. The proposed 9-1-1 tax district, if approved, would provide funding for 11 additional dispatchers and the upgrade of outdated equipment in the Corvallis Regional Communication Center.

Please consider the safety response that you want, and count on, in emergencies. Help me help our first responders by supporting this vital and valuable ballot measure in November. Our heroes can’t respond to an emergency until they are dispatched by our 9-1-1 center. Each step in the emergency response chain supports the next. We need your vote to support them!

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Eric Niemann is the mayor of Philomath. He can be reached via email at eric.niemann@philomathoregon.gov.