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UCFD #1 Hot Seat: Tyler Rock

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It’s time for the third 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, Tyler Rock. Rock, a Hermiston local, started his career as a Volunteer Firefighter/EMT with UCFD1 back in 2003 when we were still known as Hermiston Fire and Emergency Services. As a Hermiston High senior, Rock and his friends wanted to become a part of a hotshot crew in Montana to fight wildfires. After a couple months went by, Rock’s friends bailed on the idea and he took matters into his own hands. Rock took a trip down to Station #21 on 1st Street and picked up a volunteer firefighter application. “I took the application to work at Heller & Son’s Distributing, filled it out on the break bench and turned it in. A couple of days later I got a phone call asking me to come in for an interview,” Rock explained. As if volunteering at the local Fire District while being a senior in high school wasn’t enough, he also had his private pilot’s license. “I wanted to become a pilot very young age,” he said. A local program, known as the EAA Young Eagles, gives kids an introductory ride in an airplane in hopes of sparking an aviation career path. After beating his friend in a game of rock, paper, scissors for who got to sit in the front seat of the cockpit, Rock was sitting next to a pilot for the EAA Young Eagles program. While up in the air for the first time, the pilot handed over the controls to a 13-year-old Rock. “I felt that feeling when we left the ground… I was like, this is it. This is cool. The pilot let me fly the airplane and I was using the rudder pedals and everything, keeping the ball centered. He asked me, how do you know about all that? I told him I was reading a little bit here and there. We flew up over the dam, came back around and landed,” Rock recalled.

As a young pilot and volunteer firefighter, Rock immersed himself into two career paths and found an overlap between them. He was trusted amongst his peers to do the job and even at a young age his abilities weren’t questioned. “They kind of just accepted me as a tender operator and I’d take the tender and get it filled up around town or whatever. You gotta know what you’re doing and you just did it. They knew I was mechanically apt because I had my private pilots license,” Rock claimed. Between manipulating the controls in the flight deck and pulling valve handles on a fire engine, there are similarities in both jobs. According to Rock, “It’s a circular process in the way a jet engine works and that translated into a fire engine because you are basically running a centrifugal jet engine that is just pumping water, not air. Air is just a thinner fluid that aircraft move through and then with water you apply somewhat of the same principles of knowing the pump limitations, knowing not to see what you can and can’t get away with, but it’s the same thing as flying.” “It’s important to know the why’s, just like in your airplane, when stuff hits the fan so you don’t have to sit there and wonder what’s happening on your checklist. This is the reason why we train and the reason we have education training for all the jobs that we have to do on the fire ground,” he added. 

Moreover, Rock decided to further his education and went to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, AZ. In 2007, he had to leave volunteerism for a while as he focused on flying with a new job at Piedmont Airlines. Working for the airlines gave Rock the chance to travel across the world, experience all walks of life and most importantly kept his head in the clouds. With each flight Rock went on, there was one small piece missing: his fire family. “When I moved back to Hermiston in 2015, I rejoined Hermiston Fire because I missed the environment. I was out flying and I was just a number… flying. Flying is awesome and it still is but, you lose that family aspect of the job that you’re doing, you know, connecting with people on a personal level. I had missed that and it was something that I wanted back in my life again,” Rock recalled.

Currently, Tyler Rock works for American Airlines while balancing his time as a Volunteer Firefighter/EMT. Additionally, he is the President of the UCFD1 Firefighter’s Association. Besides fighting fires or flying at 35,000 feet, Rock enjoys hunting, hanging out with his fiancé and their dog or even taking to the waters while sailing with his friends. They sail to the San Juan Islands at least once or twice a year, they’ve been on a couple of trips over to Victoria, BC and they’ve even attended the Interline Regatta in the British Virgin Islands. “Translating the sail from flying is easy because you’re just creating lift on a different level. You’re creating lift on a different plane to create forward motion,” Rock explained.

When Rock was asked why he enjoys volunteering in his hometown, his response was, “To quote a fellow volunteer and a someone he considers a mentor, Sean Basford, ‘it gets into your blood.’ Even as a POC (paid-on-call) I always enjoy coming in because I always know everybody, we know everybody, we’re just a small family and we know that we have each other’s backs. We are combination department, we aren’t just paid personnel and we aren’t just volunteer personnel. We’re made up of two different work groups that work together to complete the same mission, the same task,” he said. “I’ve lived all over the country… the Northeast, the Southwest, the Midwest, I’ve flown from coast to coast, flown international and it’s just the people here that make it home. That’s why I moved back in 2015… I have seen a lot of the country, it’s faces, towns, cars, people and here in Hermiston it’s still a small enough community that everybody knows you. It is definitely growing but Eastern Oregon is just Eastern Oregon. It’s just this own little microcosm of community on its own. It’s not disjointed. It’s very cohesive,” Rock added.

“It’s the people that work here, you know, day in and day out, the 48 hour guys, the administrative staff, and the POC’s. We all work together cohesively as a group and a lot of combination departments don’t have that. I feel like it’s a very symbiotic relationship because we know we can’t do it without them. And unfortunately, due to monetary costs they can’t hire the amount of career staff they would like to have. They know they can’t really do it without us. You don’t see that type of combradiery in other parts of the country. It’s unique in that regard of a combination department with everybody helping everybody to get the end goal done. We are seeing somebody on their worst day and helping them through it together.” declared Rock.

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.