Hershberger joined the Woodburn Fire District as a volunteer firefighter 50 years ago, in April 1962, and still remains active.
“I thought it was an opportunity to give back to the community, ” he said.
The fire district honored Hershberger for his years of service with a surprise barbecue dinner on April 2.
“I can’t even begin to touch the surface of the countless hours that he’s donated to the community, through not only volunteering at Woodburn Fire, but everything else he does, from the food bank and Kiwanis, the list goes on and on,” Woodburn Fire Chief Paul Iverson said. “Hopefully he continues, too.”
Hershberger joined the district at the age of 23 because, he joked, “I like to drive fast and make lots of noise.”
Things certainly have changed at the fire district since Hershberger signed up. Instead of 12 paid staff, there were only two: the fire chief and the assistant fire chief.
Because WFD was so small, it operated out of City Hall. That is, until the mid-1970s, when Hershberger head a bond campaign to build two new fire stations, the main one on Newberg Highway and a smaller one on James Street, located off Highway 99E near Abby’s Legendary Pizza.
“We did that with a $250,000 (bond); we even bought one fire truck too,” he remembered. “It was the first time any bond election was passed on the first try. We had a great group of local community people that worked on it and they asked me to head that committee up.”
Hershberger said he’s been involved in putting out all types of fires — at schools, churches and businesses.
“I think some things you look back later and you decide it was not as safe as you thought it was at the time,” he said.
He recalled one incident when a truck with a trailer full of gasoline caught fire on Interstate 5. One person drove the truck away from the flaming trailer so it would be saved from the flames.
“We were told we were crazy for doing that,” Hershberger said. “But our number one goal, along with saving people, was to save property.”
“Training has been ramped up a lot over the years,” he said.
“After I signed up to be a volunteer fireman I spent one evening down at the fire station.
“The dispatcher that was on walked around the fire truck and showed me everything that was there… That was the basic amount of training.”
He did add that it wasn’t long after he joined the fire district that more training came along, making the fire district “a cut above other rural or small town fire departments because we stressed training,” he said. He also said that as more help is needed on medical calls, there’s more training involved.
Technology has also affected the way firefighters do business.
When Hershberger started out, they used a particle filter rather than the self-contained breathing apparatuses of today that are a lot safer, he said.
Through the years, Hershberger has worked under four fire chiefs and was even named on of the volunteer captains for a long period of time.
He will be officially honored at an awards banquet at the end of the year, which will also be around the time Carlton Gianella is set to mark 50 years with the fire district.
“Every time I talk about how I’m getting old and I should retire, I keep being told by the chief, ‘We need you to stick around and give advice to the younger guys,'” Hershberger said.
At 73, he’s still active, operating a support vehicle that provides extra air for the firefighters’ breathing apparatuses.
“Warde is very supportive of our other volunteers,” Iverson said.
“He’s kind of a mentor to them; a lot of them look up to Warde. It helps the younger guys realize it’s good to stay in an organization and be part of something for that long.”
And Hershberger said decidedly that he’ll keep volunteering: “As long as I’m able to do it, I want to help.”
— Linda Keefer