Community raising money to keep Oso's fire chief on the job

OSO, Wash. -- It has been three months since the devastating and deadly Oso mudslide, and the small town's volunteer fire chief hasn't stopped working full time on the response.

Willy Harper has spent so much time helping others, he hasn't had time to do his full time maintenance job at an Equestrian Center.

Fellow firefighters have come to the rescue, they want to raise money to temporarily pay him to be a full time active chief, but they need help.

"We've all got so much to be grateful to him for," says Oso resident Betty Tungate.

Harper is a volunteer, but he's all Oso's got.

"We don't have a local representative who can pick up the phone and say I need help with x, y and z. The fire chief has become that," said Assistant Oso Fire Chief Toby Hyde.

The workload after the deadly March slide has been nonstop, and the department estimates it could take an entire year to complete the post slide duties, plus run the department.

"There is just a lot of paperwork. I know most of the last two months he's been at the desk working on paperwork," said Hyde.

To help Chief Harper, firefighters are trying to raise $66,000. The money will buy Harper a year away from his regular ranch job. He does facilities maintenance work at a nearby ranch. But the ranch work can wait -- Hyde says the people of Oso cannot.

"We're still in this for the long haul, there's still families grieving and victims who are so frustrated with the systems to get thru and hard to negotiate," said Hyde.

Chief Harper is the victim's liaison -- the face between them and bureaucracy.

Hyde is not only Harper's assistant fire chief, he's also Harper's ranch boss. He'll hold his job for him the entire year. He said that's easy, the hard part is asking for donations.

"We don't want to be taking away from the victims or the victims families," he said.

Meanwhile, truck loads of donations for firefighters and volunteers were delivered to Oso's Volunteer Fire Department. The donations were so plentiful, a garage, three storage containers and two sheds were packed full.

Inside the firehouse's garage, which normally houses its spare Fire Engine, are thousands of donated supplies. Dozens of large garbage totes are filled with heavy duty work boots, specialized gloves, socks, gaiters, 300 shovels, chainsaw oil and every kind of search tool imaginable. Each item must be counted, cataloged, and reported.

"FEMA wants to see all that and making sure the State and County and Feds are all in line," said Hyde. "We have to turn in paperwork for reimbursement for every volunteer, every hour worked has to be documented and if it's not done right, we could lose our reimbursements."

The Chief plans to send thank yous and tax receipts for every donation, and is determined to find a way to recycle the gifted supplies.

"I just hope we raise the money for it," said lifelong Oso resident and volunteer Betty Tungate. "I don't think any of us realized just how much paperwork there would be with that, and I just hope we raise the money for it it would be wonderful if we could."

So far the firefighters have raised $22,000. The Chief, who's on a rare day off camping with his wife and two children, told said in a phone interview that he's amazed by the support.

"It's so selfless of Toby and Snohomish County Fire District 1 to do this, it's just pretty amazing," he said.

Battalion chief Steve Mason for Snohomish County's Fire District One helped to organize the effort. Donations are being collected by its foundation.

Find out how you can donate here.