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GUEST OF HONOR


The 2015 AOP Guest of Honor is no stranger to riding in the Harvest Time Parade. In the past, he's been behind the wheel of a firetruck.

This time, however, retired Oregon Fire Chief Don Heller will be chauffeured down the parade route with nothing to do but sit back and enjoy the ride. Heller retired April 30 as fire chief after serving in the position for 14 years. In all, he was a volunteer fireman for 38 years. A lifelong Oregon resident, Heller joined the department in 1977 when then-fire chief Jim Rosenbalm encouraged him to. He was appointed a lieutenant three years later on the all-volunteer department, then became a captain, and finally chief in 2001. Heller said he joined because he wanted to serve his community.

"I enjoyed the camaraderie of all the guys I went through all these years with, and I wanted to give back to the community I live in," Heller said. "Being there meant a lot to me. We get the call and it's the worst day of their lives. It was great just to be able to help out your neighbors and see the look of gratitude on their faces when it was taken care of."

Heller had planned to retire late last year when he and his wife Kathie moved to Byron. However, he decided to stay on for a few more months to help with getting a referendum passed April 7 to add an ambulance service to the fire department. Voters passed the measure by a landslide 1,251 to 173.

"I feel pretty good about that," he said. Over the years, he spent about 30 hours a week, often every evening, on fire department business, in addition to working a full-time job.