Oso fire chief is still rebuilding community


by Jake Whittenberg/ KING 5 News


Posted on April 22, 2014 at 12:56 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 22 at 2:26 PM

One month after the Oso landslide, the rural fire chief who was one of the first to respond is still in full response mode.

"I never thought there could be this many meetings," said Willy Harper, chief of the Snohomish County Fire District 25 in Oso, who spends much of his time rebuilding his community ravaged by the slide.

When the landslide hit just a few miles up State Route 530, he and his volunteers rushed to the scene. Among all the public figures behind the microphones who have emerged during this tragedy, Harper was the first in charge. He was faced with the life or death decision on sending his team to the slide area, despite that fact that it was still moving.

"We made the decision to go in and dig around on what we could," he said. "Most of the survivors were too far away.'

His decision directly saved the life of Amanda Skorjanc and her infant son Duke who were swept away in the mud.

Although operations are slowing down at the slide with all but two people accounted for, Harper still coordinates the local recovery operation and financial aide for those families who were affected.

Like most of the people in the small community of Oso, Harper was affected too.

"We were hit pretty hard," he said. "I have a captain who lost his family, my fire commissioner lost his family, one of my best friends lost his family."

The Oso fire hall is typically empty with fewer than four calls per week. It's now a bustling hub of activity.

But Harper knows he won't stop responding, until everyone in his community gets the help they need.

"I don't think they'll let me leave here at this point," he said. "Not that I would want to, I love it here."