Oso firefighter and chaplain Joel Johnson and firefighters Cyndy Olson and Bill Reynolds inspect the newly repaired firetruck at the Oso fire station on Tuesday, Feb. 21. (Daniella Beccaria / The Herald)

Oso firefighter and chaplain Joel Johnson and firefighters Cyndy Olson and Bill Reynolds inspect the newly repaired firetruck at the Oso fire station on Tuesday, Feb. 21. (Daniella Beccaria / The Herald)

Arlington church steps up to rescue the ‘Bear’

OSO — Firefighters still can be surprised by how much and how often their community is willing to step up for them, especially in Oso.

Last fall, the “Bear” broke down. That’s what they call a 2009 tender, a type of fire truck designed to hold a lot of water. It’s an essential tool when there aren’t hydrants around, Fire Chief Willy Harper said. The name came about because Oso means “bear” in Spanish.

Repairs to the truck might have bought them time, but the engine needed replacing at a cost of $34,000 for parts and labor, Harper said. His district is all volunteer-based.

“It’s pretty hard for a department like ours to make any large purchases,” he said.

One of his crew members made a connection, and a local church pitched in to make it happen.

Joel Johnson, a volunteer firefighter and chaplain, is an associate pastor at Arlington Assembly church. He serves on the Long Term Recovery Group made up of nonprofits, churches and community organizations. The group has met regularly since the devastating 2014 mudslide. They make sure needs are met for families that suffered losses in the disaster. As time passes, there are fewer needs.

Arlington Assembly, which has helped with those efforts at times, was looking for another opportunity to give back in Oso, said Ryan Kramer, the lead pastor. He and his wife started at the church nine months ago.

Kramer knew about Johnson’s ties in Oso. He asked his friend to keep an eye out for ideas. It wasn’t long before the Bear broke down.

The Arlington church is part of the Assemblies of God network based in Snoqualmie, and community service is an important part of its mission, Kramer said. After the mudslide, churches in the network had put together a donation fund. The Arlington church and Glad Tidings Assembly of God in Darrington later were asked to determine where the money was needed most. The $34,000 for the truck came from that fund.

The way church leaders saw it, picking up the bill provided a way to help people during future emergencies, in Oso and throughout the region. Kramer heard firsthand how the chief took the Bear to fight wildfires last summer in Eastern Washington.

“The hope is this contribution would assist them in their time of need down their road,” he said.

The Bear went back into service in December. It carries 4,500 gallons — more than four times the average fire truck. “It’ll last us decades,” Harper said.

March 22, the annual milestone since the slide, is approaching. Cards and checks still arrive in the mail at the fire station, and people stop by to see how it’s going. Some donations are marked specifically to assist the fire department.

“To have continued support three or four years later, it’s pretty amazing,” Harper said.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @rikkiking.

Arlington Assembly, at 201 N. Stillaguamish Ave., is a church that has programs for kids and teens, as well as a focus on community outreach. Sunday services are at 10:30 a.m.

Upcoming events include an Easter egg hunt from noon to 2 p.m., April 15, at Presidents Elementary. Special services on Easter Sunday start at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.

More info: www.arlingtonassembly.com.

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