A sense of adventure runs in the family and makes life interesting for the Dustins. Ken, wife Kim and 18 year-old daughter Brittney are all volunteer firefighters at Fire District 4. Fighting fires and responding to emergencies has brought this Shady Cove family closer together. They share a dedication to the community and a strong commitment to each other.
Ken, a heavy equipment operator for Southern Oregon Rock, has been a volunteer firefighter for 16 years. He fought the Indian Creek Fire, the Boise Cascade Fire and the Timber Rock Fire among other well-known infernos. About three years ago, observing that Kim showed an interest in his work, Ken encouraged her to join the FD4 Support Group. She did but it was not enough for her. She wanted to be on the front line —fighting fires and responding to medical emergencies.
Brittney, a 2009 Eagle Point High School graduate, followed suit by attending the Student Firefighter Program at FD3 every Wednesday during her senior year. She loved the class and decided a nine-to-five desk job was not for her, although Ken only half-jokingly says if a desk job comes along Brittney will take it. (Volunteer firefighters are paid $7 per call.)
When the Dustin’s pagers go off, it is a scramble to get to the station. They usually go in separate vehicles because as Ken jokes, the women cannot keep up with him. Kim pertly responds, “Whatever, Ken.” Many times they end up working together on the call, no matter what order they arrived at the station.
Although Kim occasionally slips and calls Ken “Babe” while working, the Dustin’s have learned to separate their marriage from their professional lives. While working, Ken’s experience takes precedence and marital and parental roles are put aside. Both Kim and Brittney willingly take orders from Ken or from other personnel.
Ken says the safety of the women is foremost in his mind. “Anytime you go out on a call, whether medical or a car wreck, there is danger.” At a recent Elk Creek brush fire, Kim walked up the mountain and dug trenches and fire lines. Ken remained at the bottom of the hill focused on his task of shuttling water for the Oregon Department of Forestry. But at the same time he kept his eye on her and on Brittney who was filling trucks from a water tender. He also puts trust in his coworkers to keep everyone safe.
Kim has her fears also. “The first time I saw him go into a burning house I was terrified.” But she had faith in his experience and also had confidence in their coworkers. She is also terrified something could happen to her “baby girl” Brittney but she supports the decisions of her children to follow their calling. Kim has learned not to dwell on her concerns.
Son Jed, 22, is a sniper in Bagdad for the Army National Guard. He plans to pursue a military career. To cope, Kim says she avoids the news and newspapers when there are articles about the war. Several months ago, however, while working the scene of a traffic fatality, Kim had a “hard time” in the aftermath because the victim was the same age as Jed.
The Dustin family has shared several calls together including fires, river rescues and car accidents. Now all three of them are planning to take the Emergency Medical Technician program for several different reasons.
Kim, who received training in Swiftwater Rescue, operating boats and is a CPR Instructor, has found she enjoys the medical end of emergency calls. Brittney’s goal is to be a career firefighter. Besides the EMT program, she will soon take the basic Firefighter 1 Academy. She loves that adrenaline rush and is eager to work in burning structures but first she must qualify. Brittney says her young friends question her career choice. And Ken who had previously been an EMT is interested in renewing his certification.
Ken and Kim feel working as volunteer firefighters is good for their marriage. Now that Kim understands his work she is able to encourage him and she says, “Ken opened up a whole new world for me.” A marriage has to be rock solid to work together so much of the time, they both agree. Referring to the pecking order, Kim adds with a mischievous grin, “Although Ken gives the orders at work, he knows who is boss at home.”
By Margaret Bradburn
Of the Independent