Roy Emery says he has been working full time since he was 13 years old. Auto parts store, gas station, food service, you name it.
But since 1983 he has had one employer, the Corvallis Fire Department. He joined as a volunteer at the age of 20, became a paid staffer in 1985 and took over as chief in 2007.
He “officially” retired in June 2018, but he has remained on the job pending the hiring of his replacement. Kenneth McCarthy, who previously served in San Jose, assumed the fire chief position June 17.
Emery will represent the department Wednesday at a Corvallis City Council-Benton County Board of Commissioners joint work session on the November vote on a 911 emergency services taxing district. But that will be his last action as chief.
“This was a perfect fit,” Emery said of his firefighting career. "When you find something you like it’s like you never have to work a day in your life.”
Emery earned degrees from Linn-Benton Community College, Western Oregon University and Portland State all while already serving in the Corvallis Fire Department, noting that he “didn’t have the discipline” to go to college at an earlier age.
Key changes that Emery said he has seen during his career include advances in firefighting gear and a greater emphasis on the health and wellness of firefighters.
“We have taken huge leaps forward in breathing apparatus and all of the protective gear,” he said. “In the old days in the early 1980s you would wear day boots and a turncoat and go into a structure fire. There also has been a recognition of the health and wellness aspects of the job. It’s really important to take care of our people and we’re doing really well with health and wellness right now.”
The Corvallis Fire Department has an employee assistance program and is trying to get a chaplaincy program started.
“We are breaking the stigma that it is not OK to say things aren’t going well,” he said. “We used to just suck it up. We need to talk through difficult calls and what went on. And the job can damage people.”
Corvallis community surveys show that the Fire Department remains a highly rated, highly valued service. To keep it that way Emery says there is “more and more training that needs to be done.”
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The department also will be working with an increased workforce. A public safety fee that was passed in November by the City Council allowed Emery to hire six more firefighters. And working with City Manager Mark Shepard on the budget produced enough funds to pay for an assistant fire chief position.
Eight firefighters — Emery also had two vacant positions to fill — already have been hired and are being trained. McCarthy will hire someone for the assistant chief position.
Emery decided to retire when he did to allow McCarthy to have two years of work with the department before contract negotiations begin with the city’s International Association of Fire Fighters bargaining unit as well as the Corvallis Rural Fire Protection District.
“I wanted to give Chief McCarthy time to establish effective relationships before the negotiations begin,” he said. “Working longer would have put my successor in a worse position.”
Emery, however, does not intend to ride his custom Harley-Davidson motorcycle into the sunset.
This month he starts work with the Special Districts Association of Oregon, where he will be a part-time consultant working with fire districts, road districts, water districts and others.
Emery said he hopes to be a “resource to help address the challenges they are having.”
Emery will retain his position as board chair of the Community Outreach Inc. social service agency. He also is considering doing medical missionary work in Latin America with his wife, Stephanie, a hospitalist at Samaritan Albany General Hospital.
His future looks like it will include a wide range of challenges. Just like firefighting.
“I liked the variety of it,” he said. “I didn’t do the same thing every day. You’re not at the same desk every day. And you had an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives.”