Joshua Dillen
The Baker City Herald

SUMPTER — One rural fire department has lost a longtime volunteer firefighter.

But he’s still around.

The department also gained a new firefighter, but not the living kind.

Before 83-year-old Don Perkins retired early this month after 20 years with the Powder River Rural Fire Department as a volunteer, and 25 years with Baker City Fire Department before that, the Powder River department added a new fire engine to the fleet at its Mosquito Flats Station just east of Sumpter.

Wes Morgan, Powder River fire chief, said one of Perkins’ co-workers from Baker City described Perkins as a “fire-eating son of a gun,” when he was a young firefighter.

Perkins, who was born in Baker City and raised on a ranch north of town, said he has always had a passion for firefighting. That’s what motivated him to volunteer with the Powder River department after he retired from Baker City.

Although Perkins is no longer officially a volunteer with Powder River, Morgan said Perkins, who lives on 7 acres just across the highway from the Mosquito Flats station, can still contribute to the department.

“He’s still more than welcome to come over here and give us some direction,” Morgan said. “Don knows he’s always welcome through that door.”

Steve Boles, chairman of the department’s board of directors, agreed that Perkins had a “wealth of knowledge.”

Boles said Perkins’ age was never an issue during his two decades as a volunteer.

“Even though he’s got some age to him, he’s able to articulate that knowledge that he’s gained to help us new firefighters,” Boles said. “Don sits back and listens and when he needs to interject something he would.”

Perkins chuckled and said he never said much except when needed.

Perkins compared his retirement to that of a friend, whose comment, when retiring from the military, was: “You never die, you just fade away.”

Perkins said he had an advantage over other Powder River volunteers by living so close to the station.

“I’d get here and the rig would be setting outside and the door open ready to go,” Morgan said.

Historic fires

Perkins helped to battle some of Baker City’s most memorable fires during his career with the city’s department, including the blaze that severely damaged Baker High School in February 1989.

Perkins also remembers using CPR for the first time in the early 1970s when the lifesaving procedure was first being used by emergency responders.

The incident started when a vehicle plunged into the Powder River.

“A fella had a heart attack (while he was driving) and he was in the Powder River,” Perkins said. “We pulled him and his girlfriend out of the river. I gave him CPR and saved his life — it was the first time it was used in Baker City. I got a plaque for that through the fire department.”

See more in the Dec. 20, 2017, issue of the Baker City Herald.