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  • Olive Galager

Hometown Hero: Dave Nelson

By Olive Gallagher, Contributing Writer

One of the common traits that seem to be found in many unsung heroes is a genuine sense of humility, even surprise, particularly when asked where they found the courage or gumption to accomplish the things they have. To them, it appears to be a natural extension of just being who they are.

David Nelson is a perfect example of that kind of “What? I never thought it was unusual. I was just doing my job!” Born in 1942 in Seattle, WA, David spent his childhood years growing up with an older sibling on a 20-acre family farm in Woodinville, a small town northeast of the city. His dad was a member of the local volunteer fire department, and as David clearly remembers, when he was five his dad came home one evening wearing a badge, cut out from a large cardboard box of kitchen matches, pinned to his jacket and bearing the words Fire Chief. His dad had been appointed that night by his fellow volunteers.

David also recalls that after that promotion, along with their regular home phone that was on a ten-party line, they also now had a special fire phone in their home designated just for emergency calls for help. His dad would go get the fire engine and his mother would start calling the firemen on the home phone. And so, at age eighteen, it seemed natural as breathing that he would choose to volunteer for the department, too.

After attending a junior college for two years, David learned that Oklahoma State University in Stillwater had a special program in Fire Protection Technology. He transferred there the following year and completed his degree in that field. Shortly after graduation, he married and he and his bride moved to Oregon, where he took a position with Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company. The couple lived in Beaverton where David joined the local fire department as a volunteer. He and Linda become the proud parents of two children.

In 1966, David was drafted into the U.S. Army and assigned to the fire department at Fort Lewis, Washington. After eighteen months of service at the Gray Army Air Field “Crash Rescue Station,” he was discharged and returned home. In January 1969, he left the insurance company and joined the Beaverton Fire Department as a paid firefighter. By the 1970s, David had taken a position in the Fire Marshal’s office, spending a good amount of his time performing inspections and enforcing preventions.

During his years with the Fire Department, he held positions as Firefighter, Inspector, Fire Marshal for Beaverton, Director of the Fire Marshal’s office for Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue, Director of Special Services, and Operations Manager for TVF&R’s Regional Training and Simulations Center. After 30 years, he and his wife, who taught 34 years as a kindergarten teacher in Lake Oswego, retired.

When queried about his source of courage to run into, not away from, a burning structure, he answered with his modest but ever-present good humor, “From the beginning, you learn there’s a job to do. You just get on with it and get it done. You put the wet stuff on the hot stuff and the rest follows!”

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