Bill Matthews, firefighter, first responder, EMR/EMT and manager of the Deer Island Fire Station for 12 years, officially hung up his helmet following a retirement party on Friday, Oct. 18.
Matthew, 65, had been a supervisor at Boise Cascade for 37 years when he was first approached to be a firefighter. The company was involved in a mock drill that directed them to close Highway 30 and “save many lives,” according to his wife, Connie St. Clair-Matthews.
When the fire department showed up for the mock drill, Division Chief Brian Burright saw Matthews in action and asked him where he lived, and did he want to become a firefighter and manage the Deer Island Station? He said they needed one bad.
So, Connie said, Matthews passed all of the tests and physicals and went to work.
“He’s used jaws of life on car wrecks, he’s rescued a horse, he’s done a lot,” Connie said. “He went to McBride to talk to all the children about being a firefighter and drove the largest fire truck through the parade.”
Matthews fought two wildland fires in Oregon in 2017 and would go on to spend 14 days fighting fires in California that same year with the rest of the Columbia County team.
Connie specifically remembers one incident in which Matthews responded to a motorcycle accident on Canaan Road. While volunteers aren’t technically supposed to call Life Flight, she said Matthews knew the victim was in critical condition, so he called them.
“The guy said he heard everything he did, heard when they started plucking rocks out of his leg and Bill told them not to. He said, ‘you saved my life,’” Connie said, adding those involved sent him thank you notes. He still has the book the victims and family members made for him.
Matthews’ dedication didn’t end at work, according to Connie. She recounted several incidents in which they were out and about that her husband responded to someone in need. He rescued a child choking on a plastic tag, and another whose leg was caught in a grocery store cart. When a cocktail waitress “went down” in Las Vegas at a convention, Matthews jumped a wall to help her.
During his time as manager, Matthews volunteered his time to maintain the grounds, cleaning the base, washing trucks and mowing the lawn.
“Bill is a fantastic man and he was a great volunteer for us and he will definitely be missed. At the Deer Island Station, he tended to the maintenance of the station, making sure it was kept,” Columbia River Fire & Rescue (CRFR) public information officer, Jennifer Motherway said. “He often wanted to do that. He was able to supply his time and energy which was really fantastic. We don’t have many volunteers from that area and he will be greatly missed.”
In a post on CRFR’s Facebook page, Matthews was deemed “the Deer Island station connoisseur.”
“It won’t be the same without him, and we are lucky he has been such a dedicated member of our community,” CRFR said. “Thank you for everything, Bill.”
Connie said at 65 years young, Matthews can still climb that 250-foot ladder in Scappoose, but he thought it was time to retire so they could travel and focus on family.
The only member of the family who may be slightly disappointed is Matthews’ nine-year-old granddaughter, Frankie Matthews, who delighted in making sure he came out as the 2019 Scappoose Sauerkraut Festival Dunk Tank Challenge winner.
“She’s very proud of him. She said, ‘Nana, now I won’t be able to boast about Papa being a fireman because he’s retiring. Do you know what boast means?’” Connie said with a laugh. “In her classroom, when they said a firefighter was the one that won the dunk tank, she raised her hand and said, ‘That’s my Papa.’”