I don’t talk about our volunteer fire department that we have here in our little town of St. Paul, Oregon very much; but maybe it’s about time. I’ve been a volunteer for the St. Paul Fire District since 2006. This all volunteer district covers mostly rural area and responds to both fire and medical calls. I started as an EMT and then Firefighter I. I have been an active volunteer until 2018 when I took a hiatus from responding to have our third baby. I’m still keeping up my certs, I’m still planning to return to full time volunteering soon. For me it’s a part of my family here in St. Paul, some of my closest friends are those who throw on turn outs next to me when the tones go off. I know we all feel that way.
But today I want to talk about another fireman and friend who I have known his whole life, Austin Smith. Austin was tragically killed in an explosion during a barn fire on February 3rd, 2022. His death was terrible and heartbreaking, and we have no real answers yet as to what exactly occurred in that early morning fire. What we know is that he was taken too soon, plucked by God for reasons we have yet to and may never fully understand.
That Thursday morning I was home getting my kids ready for school, in usual hurried morning fashion, I glanced at my phone, and stopped in my tracks. It was blowing up with texts about a fire. First alarm, second alarm….and on and on…all for a barn fire. Then something about Lifeflight. Then the news of “we did everything we could” and “it’s not good” and “come to the station”.
The words “This doesn’t happen. Not on a barn fire. Not in St. Paul” keep rolling around in my head, still even today as I sit here and write this almost two weeks later. And yet here we are faced with a tragedy that no one expected and no one was prepared for.
We buried Austin, husband, son, brother, uncle and friend to everyone last Saturday in a grand ceremony that was incredible in all the ways it could have been. Incredible turnout of over 5000. Incredible sadness. Incredible speeches that were moving and full of good stories, memories and love. Incredible food, friends, and most importantly incredible beer. You can watch the full ceremony here.
When a man only 30 years old leaves an instant legacy of volunteerism, community service and love for a small town; it is felt by all. It’s moving, and sad all at once; but mostly it was inspiring. That was the theme as we went through the whole week before and even on the day of Saturday; what can we do for this community? How can we help? How can we make a difference for those around us?
Austin, you are so missed; by your family, by your bride, by your friend tribe, by fire family and by our whole community. But I want you to know that what you worked for in your short time here, won’t be lost and it wasn’t for nothing. Your life gave and will continue to give all of us who were honored to know you so much for generations to come.
There were so many moving parts to Austin’s memorial. Many of which I was honored to be a part of. One of the most amazing though was bringing him home with the rest of our department volunteers. Below is a video of just a glimpse of the scenes we saw while driving from Clackamas to St. Paul and then on to the funeral home in Newberg. It was breathtaking the entire way. Cars stopped on the freeway, flags flying, people with hand over hearts and tears in their eyes while we drove on by to bring Austin home.
Austin was so many things to so many people. This small blog can’t do a bit of justice to all the ways that he lived his life; a volunteer, farmer, rodeo member, firefighter, Jaycee; the list goes on and on. Here are just a few news stories that encompass what it was to know Austin, or as Firefighter Reed Godfrey put it during his memorial, “To know Austin was to love Austin.”
That dark February morning changed our town forever. The explosion, in one split second, could have been enough to drive a wedge between all that we knew and all that we could fear. Instead though after Saturday, seeing our town come together, I think his tragedy and ultimately the legacy of his inspiring life becomes the glue that will now hold us all together while we all keep working to accomplish what Austin would have wanted from all of us, to keep on going.
At the end of the memorial. After so many tears, the last call tones were sent out to Firefighter Smith. I don’t know that I will ever forget that moment and words that will forever be nestled in my heart as we all heal, “Godspeed Austin. We’ve got it from here.”