“When one celebrates, we all celebrate,” said Interim District 3 (and former) Fire Chief Randy Iverson as he opened an evening that honored Barry “The Bear” Hoffman for the only career he has ever known–that of fire service.
The celebration was attended by some 150 representing not only family, friends, past and current firefighters, but also suppliers who have known the Bear for many years. The word friend was one of the most used words as various ones described him, who he was and what he meant professionally and personally.
Hoffman began his career with the Eagle Point Volunteer Fire Department at the age of 16. Those were the days in Eagle Point when the siren wailed, many of the volunteers were kids (like Barry) who came running from the high school, joining cars and pickups with horns blaring– all making the mad dash for what is now basically a gaping unused part of downtown Eagle Point. But in that era, it was where the volunteer fire department held court and those volunteers were jumping aboard that engine as it pulled out of the yard. Hearts pumping, they were off save a structure and perhaps a life.
Barry began with the volunteer department in 1973. To be exact, it was Jan. 4, 1973, which was the date of his 16th birthday and the first date one could volunteer. Firefighting was in his blood. In 1975- 1977 he became a summer firefighter with Central Point Rural Fire District (later to become Fire District 3) while finishing his fire Science Degree at Chemeketa Community College. In the fall of 1977 he was hired as a full time firefighter with Fire District 3.
Iverson was appointed Fire Chief in 1980 and Hoffman was the first person he had the privilege of promoting. The promotion was to Engineer in the fall of 1981. While a paid fireman he continued to volunteer for eight years until the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1985 forbid him from the dual role.
Seven years later he was made a Captain and in October 1991, he became the Operations Chief of Jackson County Fire District 3.
Five years ago Hoffman received an honor that at that time only 503 in the entire world had ever received. The honor was awarded at a ceremony in Texas when he received the Chief Fire Officer designation from the Center for Public Safety Excellence, a national organization that accredits fire protection and agencies and certifies competency of a fire officer.
Hoffman would never tell you about this honor. He has lived by Chief Iverson’s code, “service out the door,” which translated means it is not about the firemen, but about the people who need the firefighters.
Even though Hoffman officially retired Dec. 1, 2009, honors and recognition continued. The Oregon Volunteer Fire Conference meets annually and gives an annual membership award to someone who has contributed above and beyond. And if there is someone deserving, they can give a Lifetime Achievement Award. Analisa McKinley, as an EMS volunteer, nominated him for the honors and some of the material in this article is from her nomination letter. She also talked about the award at the June 30 ceremony at Fire District 3.The meeting was in Hermiston. There was a farm auction the day before the award in Hermiston and it just so happened they had a piece of equipment that Hoffman needed for his farming operation. Apparently he also knew he was getting the membership award and agreed to make the trip and to attend the meeting. Just as they honored him with that award and he was leaving the podium, they asked him to stay. It was at that time they presented him with the Lifetime Achievement Award. This award is only given to one person a year. And it is truly for a lifetime. Should Hoffman or his family have a need, the support is there. Good friend, and himself a long-time fireman with District 3, Captain Dennis Jordan arrived in Hermiston along with Hoffman’s daughters who also knew about the awards and walked in to the ceremony to surprise him.
“There’s only one name that comes up when you say Fire District 3 and that name is Barry Hoffman,” said Captain Mark Minor who has been with the district since 1981.
State Fire Marshal Randy Simpson, who has known Hoffman for a number of years, sent a letter appreciating his service and noting that soon Bear would be proud of his Bear cub (his daughter, Lacy will make him a grandfather later this year) Captain Jordan read the letter on behalf of Simpson who was unable to attend because one of his staff was retiring the same evening.
Hoffman spoke of great pride in the department, from the equipment to the training and dedication of both the volunteers and paid firefighters. Perhaps that was best exemplified when he recalled the time he and two others answered the call of a six-year-old face down in the bottom of a swimming pool. They performed CPR. The youth was transported to the hospital and the next day the three visited him in the hospital, complete with a Fire Chief’s hat. Twelve years later that boy sent them an invitation to his high school graduation. They all attended in full uniform.
“Be safe, keep the prospective, be smart and keep Fire District 3 in your heart. You can’t beat it,” said Hoffman as his voice begin to quiver and tears were not far away.
Hoffman was presented with several plaques. But he was not the only one to receive an award. The firefighters recognized Hoffman’s wife, Kathy, for the many years a wife runs a household alone due to the schedule and demands of a firefighter. She was presented a “certificate of endurance” along with a huge bouquet of flowers.
Barry and Kathy Hoffman have two grown daughters, Lacy and Arlisa.
Following the awards, Mel Morris prepared one of his famous tri-tip BBQs and firefighters and wives contributed side dishes for the dinner. Afterwards, it was open mic time with the sharing of many memories and special moments.
By Nancy Leonard
Of the Independent