A Cannon Beach firefighter of all trades
"You're drawn to it, and somebody's got to do it," Matt Gardner says of firefighting. "I think it's inside of you, really... It's got to come from within. "Photo by Michael Burkett

Matt Gardner wasn't one of those kids who decided to become a firefighter when he was 4 years old. But he's at all not surprised that life took him in that direction.

"It's always been a knack of mine to take care of others," he says today. "That's the way I was raised. So when I started doing this, it was a natural fit."

Clearly, Gardner's boss, Cannon Beach Fire Chief Cleve Rooper, agreed. Effective March 16, the three-year Cannon Beach firefighter became the new training and safety officer for the Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District.

And after he completes his training, He'll become the city's new fire marshal, too.

Until then, Gardner, who'll turn 30 on April 11, will remain a full-time firefighter and emergency medical services (EMS) technician.

"I have a lot of courses still to do, but it's all falling into place rather quickly," Gardner said of his current and very busy training regimen. "By the time I have everything under my belt, I'll be performing in all of the positions."

Since the departure of the city's former fire marshal, Jason Sharer, inspections have been contracted out. That will continue until Gardner is ready to step into the job.

Gardner moved from Seattle to Cannon Beach four years ago to live near his parents. Within his first year here, he became a local firefighter.

"I found this department and just fell in love with it," Gardner says. "I love the service it provides to the community, and the industry itself. "

Gardner isn't sure how one can fall in love with such a dangerous job.

"I don't know," he says. "You're drawn to it, and somebody's got to do it. I think it's inside of you, really. If you're going to put yourself into that circumstance, that situation, it's got to come from within. We've got a core group of guys here who have decided that's what they want to do with their lives, and that's what they want to do for this community. It's very special."

At last count, Gardner's department had 23 active firefighters on its roster, including the chief and officers.

"We always have plans and hopes to build up that number," he says. "We need to expand and enhance our personnel whenever possible. That will be a relatively immediate goal as far as my taking over this position."

However, he adds, there is no set, ideal number for a volunteer department like his.

"The more resources you have, the more people we can send to respond at any time of the day or night. If we had 40 people, and 20 of them showed up at an EMS call, how great would that be?"

Although Gardner isn't married and has no children, he appreciates the role of family in every firefighter's life - and in every fire department.

"The families of our firefighters are as important as our firefighters themselves, because without their support, there are no firefighters. Everybody has their role, and they're all equally important."

Although he has a long future ahead of him, Gardner isn't sure he'll ever make a better decision than the one that brought him to Cannon Beach.

"It's the best thing that's happened to me, really," he says. "I found a true passion, and I'll get to follow it for another 25 or 30 years, and give back to this community."

And the award goes to...

Last month, the Cannon Beach Rural Fire District honored some of its volunteer firefighters and others in the community for their service. Gardner was selected Emergency Medical Services Provider of the Year; Trevor Mount was named Firefighter of the Year for 2009; Garry Smith was tapped as Officer of the Year; and Vicente Arcadio received an award for Cadet of the Year.

Receiving lifetime community service awards were Cannon Beach residents Jay Schwehr and Treva Haskell. Honored for their years of volunteer service were JoAnne Cremer, 25 years; Lt. Rob Schultz, 15 years; and Lt. Mark Morgans, 10 years.

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