by Deborah Steele Hazen
When wintry weather strikes, when the roads are covered in snow and ice, speed kills.
That was the terrible lesson we learned again here last Friday. It has happened before, and it will happen again. So please, friends and neighbors, be careful.
Arriving late to wherever you’re going is much preferable to not getting there at all. Drivers who are impatient in winter weather conditions not only endanger themselves, but everyone else on the road as well.
By the time this column is in print, the ice and snow is predicted to be on the way out – for now. But this winter has barely begun. (Actually, it hasn’t even officially started until the winter solstice on Dec. 21.) With the unpredictability of our weather, we don’t know what the next couple of months will hold. Maybe we won’t have any more snow and ice; maybe we will have several more episodes.
Heroes Among Us
The fatal speed and ice-caused crash on Highway 30 west of Clatskanie last Friday, also reminded us of the heroes living among us.
Clatskanie Elementary School teacher Dawn Warren and her son Shaine, who graduated from Clatskanie High School earlier this year, plus an unidentified man, were among the first on the scene and raced out onto the frozen ditch to help the Portland man who had slid out of control as he was trying to pass a semi-truck on Highway 30 at Blitz Creek Road, just west of Marshland.
The driver was trapped inside his pickup upside down, and the truck was breaking through the ice into the frigid water. At no little risk to their own safety, the three rushed to his aid, cut him out of his seatbelt and got him out of the pickup. It seemed as if he was going to be okay. He responded to Shaine’s questions about there not be any other passengers, but then he collapsed and quit breathing
The three heroic passersby, joined by volunteer firefighter Larry McCallister who lives nearby, were administering cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) when the Clatskanie Rural Fire Protection District (CRFPD) emergency responders arrived on the scene. They also worked to save the man’s life, but it wasn’t to be. The fact that the driver died does not in any way diminish the heroism of his rescuers.
Our thoughts and gratitude have also been turning during the past week – even more than usual – to our firefighter/emergency medical services paid staff and volunteers. They have been responding almost constantly to calls for help, and have had to battle, along with those they are helping, the treacherous road conditions.
We are thankful that the people of the CRFPD approved the tax levy last May that has resulted in the ability to add some staff members and ensure round-the-clock coverage. As overworked as our emergency responders have been recently, their ability to help us would have been hampered without the passage of that levy.
Helping Our Neighbors
The reality is that our rural tax-supported services – the fire department, law enforcement, city and county crews – don’t have enough people to respond to every problem that arises.
We can argue about not wanting to pay more taxes, how efficiently they are used, and the increasing costs of personnel and benefits. But the reality is that we depend on these services, especially in times of weather extremes.
While the Clatskanie fire department has been able to modestly expand its personnel base thanks to the tax levy, the law enforcement situation in Columbia County is getting worse. Not only is there virtually no patrolling in the north Columbia County area, the money for operating the jail is running out, and voters declined the levy for that purpose last month.
Criminals throughout the county – even those arrested by our city officers – are being booked and released almost immediately back onto the streets and rural roads again. That is predicted to get even worse.
As Clatskanie Police Chief Marvin Hoover discussed with the Clatskanie city council last week, in order for us to stay safe – not just within the city limits, but throughout the greater community – “we are going to have to bond together as we never have before.”
We are not suggesting that untrained people take on the work and risks of our highly trained emergency personnel, but there are things each of us can do to lessen their load: slow down and drive safely; prepare for inclement weather with supplies and weatherization; offer to help your friends and neighbors; practice random acts of kindness and thoughtfulness.
Check out and participate in the “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” program that has been begun by Toby and Kara Harris of Fultano’s Pizza. (See the ad on page 4).
Together we can make not only this holiday season, but the future of our community, happier, healthier and safer.