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UCFD #1 Hot Seat: Gaige Phillips

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It’s time for the twenty-first edition of the UCFD #1 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 UCFD #1 introduces to you; Gaige Phillips. Phillips, a Hermiston native, was hired at UCFD #1 on February 13th, 2017. While growing up, Phillips never thought about being a firefighter, but instead he wanted to work in law enforcement. “When my brother and I were younger, Trevor actually always wanted to be the fireman and I wanted to be the cop. Typical stuff you would expect from two brothers,” explained Phillips. Phillips was homeschooled and spent a majority of his childhood helping out his grandparents on their farm on Butter Creek in Echo, OR. During middle school, Phillips made the transition from being homeschooled to public school and started attending Hermiston High School. After graduating from Hermiston, Phillips wanted to make some money before going off to college. He knew he didn’t want a desk job, but rather something where he was on his feet working. He came across a job opportunity in Ukiah, OR where he could work for the U.S. Forest Service and help out on wildland fires. Per the job requirements you had to be 18 years old, so Phillips had to wait until his birthday to officially start the job. One day after his birthday, he made the trip down to Ukiah where he started working on a handline crew. After he started for the U.S. Forest Service he heard about an opportunity back home, UCFD #1’s Resident Intern Program. He thought this might be the perfect opportunity for him since the program helped pay for school and he would get on the job experience at a fire department. Phillips had already started taking BMCC courses to jump start his education in Law Enforcement, but once he got a glimpse of the fire service, he became immersed in the camaraderie of the crews and never looked back.

Furthermore, the first time Phillips got to go interior on a structure fire he felt like he was where he was supposed to be. There’s nothing quite like 1,000 ºF temperatures to make you feel right at home. “You see it in the movies, but when you’re actually in there and you hear it and feel it, it pulled me right in,” expressed Phillips. Following Phillips starting the program, his brother Trevor eventually followed his footsteps. While Gaige was in the Resident Intern Program, Trevor was working as a wildland firefighter down in New Mexico. Gaige told his brother about the program at UCFD #1 and Trevor moved back up to Hermiston. They both completed the program alongside one another and found an accelerated Paramedic program in Nebraska where they both got their Paramedic Certification. Once they returned back home, they both worked seasonal positions and Trevor landed the open temp spot. Gaige decided to go back to school at Eastern Oregon University in the mean time, but six months later he ended up landing a job at UCFD #1. Compared to other people in this line of work, Gaige got his start earlier than most. At 21 years old he was a full time Firefighter/Paramedic, serving the community that he was raised in. “There’s something to be said about working in your hometown. It can be harder sometimes because you know a lot of people that you respond to but it’s nice to work around the people who helped you when you were growing up. It’s feels good to give back,” said Phillips. “It’s interesting when we would go on calls to like the high school and I would be instructing student and teachers, the teachers would look at me in a way that I’ve never seen them look at me before because they looked at me as an authority figure, and I’m 20 years old. I think it’s cool to prove to them that I have matured and stepped up to become useful to our local community,” he added. 

The response area for UCFD #1 offers a variety in the types of calls our crews respond to each and everyday. With our current staffing model, our firefighters get to wear many hats. Not only do they get a lot of experience on calls, but they get a lot of experience in different positions. At most larger, inner city departments a firefighter has an assigned position they are stuck with throughout the shift. “We’re such a busy department with limited personnel, you get to play different roles. You get a lot of experience in engineer positions (driving and pumping the engine), ladder positions (setting up our big ladder truck), suppression positions (firefighting) and, you’re on the medic. You just get to see the occupation from all different perspectives and actually live each one,” explained Phillips. Furthermore, UCFD #1 has a succession plan program affording members the ability to go through advanced officer training and act up in that capacity if needed. A lot of people speculate that firefighters sit around the station and wait for the big call to come in, but in reality 93% of UCFD #1’s calls are EMS responses. In 2022, UCFD #1 responded to 6,113 calls in total with 5,020 being EMS calls. That is a 9% increase from 2021 with an average of 17 calls per day. “I think there’s a lot of things that the community doesn’t necessarily understand about the job. There is downtime, but we’re a very busy department and like I said, our team has to be able to fill lots of different roles at random times. Jack of all trades, master of none. That quote sums up the fire service really well because it’s not just going on structure fires… we do run on structure fires but we also respond to wildland fires, EMS calls, motor vehicle accidents, rope rescue calls, hazmat calls, it could be something as simple as somebody locks their keys in their car, or a cat gets stuck in the tree. If nobody else can do it, then we do it,” said Phillips. 

When Phillips isn’t working he enjoys spending his time with his wife, Bobbi, and hunting. At the age of five his father got him into dirt bikes which sparked a love for motorcycles. This passion of his has been on the back burner recently because Gaige and his brother, Trevor, started their own cattle company, Phillips Brothers Cattle Company. Trevor doesn’t work at UCFD #1 anymore, but Gaige still gets to spend time with his older brother out in the cattle fields. “We work with each other every day, whether it was when we were at the department or off duty and we get along really well. It’s been nice to be able to spend more time with him,” expressed Phillips. 

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.