INDEPENDENCE — Not all calls Polk Fire District No. 1 responds to are emergencies. Though, to Barbara Tuohy, calling the department was the only answer she could think of a few weeks ago when she had a problem.
Tuohy, who lives outside Independence on Wells Landing Road, proudly displays the American flag on a pole in her front yard. Her husband, children and grandchildren have all served or are serving in the military, so she believes it’s a way to honor their service.
Recently, she purchased a new flag to fly over her house, and on Feb. 20, she put it up.
“I went out and I pulled the flag down because I had bought a new one. The wind was a little stiff, but not bad. I wasn’t paying attention. I got it up and went to town,” Tuohy recalled.
When she returned, she discovered something was wrong.
“I said ‘Oh my god,’ I hung the flag upsidedown,” she said. “I had no idea how many people knew what an upside-down flag meant. I would have my neighbors calling my kids.”
Flying a flag upside down is a signal of distress, and she didn’t want anyone to think she was in trouble or showing disrespect.
She tried to take the flag down to display it correctly, but it was stuck. After 15 minutes of unsuccessfully trying to get the flag unstuck, she knew she needed help.
“I couldn’t get it back down,” Tuohy said.
She called the fire department and said the man who answered teased her a little, asking, “You’re not ready to surrender are you?”
Tuohy said she laughed and said no.
“He said ‘We’re getting a ladder truck ready to come out,’” she said.
Capt. Mike Kissel, firefighter Adam Chinnock and recruit firefighter Jennifer VanPatten drove out to Tuohy’s house and quickly fixed the problem.
“They came out and they pulled it (the flag pole) up out of there, they fixed the rope and changed the flag and they put it back up,” Tuohy said. “I was just going to have them remove the flag. I was going to get a whole new thing. They said ‘Oh, no, We can take care of it.’”
She said she’s grateful for their quick and professional response.
“People need to see,” Tuohy said. “They don’t just go out and get kitties out of trees.”
Tuohy said she knows how hard emergency responders work, having served as dispatcher in the 1970s at Yamhill County’s first 911 system.
“People need to realize when the fire department goes out for bond issues and stuff, they don’t do it to get big raises,” she said. “They do it to help people.”
Deputy Chief Neal Olson said the crew was happy to assist Tuohy.
“Fixing flags isn’t something that we normally do,” Olson said. “Usually folks take care of those issues on their own, but this is a different case. We can’t have a flag displayed improperly, and we can’t have somebody upset about a problem we can fix. In this situation we were able to help out.”