Twelve years ago, Gwen Turner checked in with the local volunteer efforts after a devastating flood in Boistfort to ask if she could help. She had no idea then, but the question set things in motion to change the rest of her life. Today, she’s chief of the Boistfort Fire Department and it all started with that one question.
Gwen lived the first ten years of her life in Colorado and then her next 13 in Northern California. She got her first look at Boistfort in 1995 when she came to visit friends. She recalls how she loved the area, so much that she ended up moving here. With just one stint of moving back to California behind her, she’s definitely found her niche in picturesque Boistfort.
Back in December 2007 though, it was the circumstances of the flood that got her involved. “Once the floodwaters went down, I came to see if there was something I could do to help,” Gwen recalls. She was told that donations for the community members were pouring in and they needed someone to organize them as well as organize the volunteers—which was perfect for her skill set.
She recalls that after the initial emergency, the effort then shifted to the Boistfort Grange. “The grange and fire department worked hand in hand,” Gwen says. “The Grange was feeding people in the beginning and then feeding the volunteers who worked on the weekends on up until May.”
After the flood-recovery effort was over, Gwen asked Gregg Peterson, then fire chief, how she could help. Knowing she was proven as a good organizer, he told her that the department needed someone to organize the volunteers’ training. Then after a while, he followed up with, “Well, you come to our trainings, why don’t you become a volunteer?” She took his suggestion and later became the official training officer for the department.
Gregg later left the department to take a paid chief position at Napavine. He was replaced by Kyle DePriest, who was later hired by Lewis County Fire District No. 6 as a firefighter. With the position open again, someone suggested to Gwen that she put in an application and as they say, the rest was history. She became Lewis County’s first female fire chief in May 2015.
The department currently has 19 volunteers, some of whom are also emergency medical technicians. “I appreciate the volunteers,” Gwen says. “They are my greatest support system in addition to my family. They are really wonderful people. They’re the best.”
“I respond to as many calls as I can,” Gwen says. However, as a volunteer, she can’t make them all. But she does make sure that the volunteers’ training and safety equipment needs are met, all while keeping an eye on the volunteers’ morale. “I rely on the volunteers,” Gwen said. “It’s definitely a team effort.”
As Chief, Gwen reports to the commissioners on operations, training and keeping them informed of the department’s needs. “I am the conduit of communications between our elected commissioners and our volunteers,” she explains.
Gwen also coordinates the Boistfort Department’s training in conjunction with neighboring fire districts so when they are called out together, they work well together.
The position is worthwhile for Gwen. “It’s rewarding knowing we are ready to help our neighbors and our own families,” she says. “When they call 911, someone will show up and it will not just be one person and they will be trained.”
The most challenging aspect of the work is not always being successful in their efforts to save lives. Being such a small community, it’s very difficult for her and the other volunteers to lose people they know and love. “Going on calls to people you know is not easy,” she says.
At home, Gwen has a 16-year-old son Caleb, as well as her husband Derek Iddison, whom she married five days after taking the chief position.
The fire department is not the only area of Gwen’s life where her organization and people skills come to play. She is co-owner with Stephanie Lyon of Fairway Collections in Chehalis. Stephanie is the Chief Financial Officer taking care of all the accounting needs and managing the collectors, while Gwen is the Chief Operations Officer managing all the support staff and the collectors compliance-wise. “We pride ourselves in being different than other agencies,” Gwen says. “We want to be as compassionate as we can with consumers.”
Gwen is also involved with healthcare in East Lewis County, serving as a director for the Arbor Health Foundation. Her contributions bring a new perspective and her skills in fundraising are helpful in the position. Her involvement also gives the Foundation more exposure on the West end of the county.
With Gwen chief for Lewis County Fire District 13, good things continue to happen in Boistfort. “I want the community to know how much we appreciate their support,” Gwen says. “They are very generous with their accolades. You know, no one here (in the department) is paid so the thanks and appreciation mean a lot. It means the world to us.”