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UCFD #1 Hot Seat: Chris Wrathall

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It’s time for the fourth edition of the UCFD1 Hot Seat. The Hot Seat provides a brief snapshot sharing the story of a highly committed and dedicated staff member.

It is with great pleasure UCFD1 introduces to you, Chris Wrathall. Wrathall, originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, got his start at Fire District #1 just under 20 years ago. After working at a bank and towards an economics degree, Wrathall came to a realization that he wasn’t living up to his original dreams he had while growing up. “Most young kids are fascinated with big fire trucks and when they first see them go by they think that’d be cool to do that when they’re older. I had always felt like that. In order to be really be true to myself, I needed to pursue what originally spiked my interest so I went back to school, started over and became a paramedic and a firefighter,” Wrathall explained. He received his Associates Degree in Emergency Medical Services (EMS) from Lane Community College and then continued his education and obtained a Bachelors in Fire Service Administration from Eastern Oregon University.

Umatilla County Fire District #1 might be the largest fire district in Eastern Oregon but, the bond created by our firefighters and paramedics is very tight knit. A lot of departments across the nation have so many stations and personnel, some of their staff don’t get the opportunity to get to know one another. “I think that we’re small enough that we have a lot of camaraderie. We don’t have so many stations like these bigger departments where you could go a year or two without seeing somebody that was your friend or that you’re close to. At UCFD1, we are able to always rub shoulders with each other. It’s more of a family feel. This is what it feels like to me instead of just being a number in the system, running calls. There’s a name attached to that person and you know who they are,” Wrathall said. Being able to run into a fellow firefighter on scene and know they have your back goes a long way on emergency incidents.

Besides saving lives and helping the community, Wrathall enjoys exploring the outdoors. There isn’t a path, mountain or stream in Eastern Oregon that he hasn’t uncovered. If he isn’t hiking the Elk Horns he might explore waterfalls with his wife and his daughter (Wrathall has 3 kids). He says that being outside not only helps him escape those hard days at work but, keep up with the younger guys at the station. “I swim a lot, I run a lot. I’ll go out and log miles sometimes. Maybe that’s just the way I deal with work in a positive way. When things don’t go your way, you can just run and zone out in your head. But I think also as I get older, it’s getting harder to keep up with the younger guys. So I don’t really feel like I have a choice in that, I’ve got to do those things just so I can do my job,” Wrathall exclaims. “It comes down to running, swimming, fly fishing and I ski a lot in the winter. And if I can do those with my family, then it’s 10 times better,” he added.

When asked if there was anything he wanted the public to know Wrathall stated, “It’s important to be nice to people and sometimes that’s hard, especially when you get old, you tend to get a little grumpy. It’s all about being nice and treating each other with kindness. My wife often has told me, ‘You get farther with honey than you do with vinegar.’ That’s so true. In life as I look back it’s a matter of just being kind to each other, being nice and you’ll be successful.”

Without a doubt, many people who join the fire service, stay in the fire service. Wrathall is right at the top of the list of career firefighters at UCFD1 who have served this community for two decades. There are a couple of other guys who have more than 20 years in but, Wrathall has seen our District and the city of Hermiston grow over time. Wrathall reflects,“It’s just the value and the effort that we put behind the team. So when you go on a call and it’s a call that demands more than you’re able to deal with, you know you can get on the radio and call for help. You know the guys are coming, they’re gonna have your back and that you’re not in it alone for very long. That’s always been something I’ve really enjoyed. “Also, there’s a bigger sense of community here in Hermiston compared to living in a big city. That’s just the way it is in small towns. Sometimes you respond on calls to people you know and that can hurt, other times it can become a struggle. Then, there are times you go on a calls to people you’ve been going on for 20 years and nothing’s changed, they’re still doing the same things. It’s nice knowing people. It’s nice being in a town where there’s a sense of community, where people can talk about their kids playing football and you know exactly who it is that they’re talking about. It’s just a little tighter knit here. It seems like the community cares a little bit more about what goes on here. It’s one of the reasons that I’ve stayed here,” he added.

It is our goal to bring the community closer with our District by telling the stories of the men and women who represent Umatilla County Fire District #1. It’s better to meet them, before you need them.