PROFILE: Rod Morris, Washougal Fire Fighter and former City Council member

June 29, 2012

by Martha Martin

Rod Morris (contributed photo)

At age 57, Rod Morris has quite an extensive history of Washougal community involvement.

Born in White Salmon, Morris grew up in Vancouver, graduating from Evergreen High School, and obtaining an Associates degree in Machine Shop from Clark College.

When Morris was 10 years old, his mother Delores married his step-father Leonard Conklin.  The family grew instantly, with two sisters, three step-sisters, and eventually a half brother.

Regarding his relationship with his dad, Morris said “He’s not my biological father, but he’s my dad, and I’m proud of it”.

While still in high school, Morris started a career as a machinist, working for Tidland Corporation for 35 years.  He saw only one interruption when he worked one year as a loom fixer during a lay-off from Tidland.  He is currently retired.

In addition to his Tidland job, Morris developed a career as a volunteer fire fighter.  His biological father was in the Fire Department in White Salmon for five years, and an uncle was employed for 28 years in the Wapato Fire Department, with the rank of Assistant Fire Chief.

Morris recalls “As a kid, I got to go on calls with him [his uncle] and always enjoyed that.”

Rod Morris (farthest left Fire Fighter in black turn-out) with Washougal Fire Dept. during Bowling Alley Practice Burn (photo Martha Martin)















Fire Fighter

His attraction to the fire department started off as something he saw as interesting to do.  He had, at one time, two opportunities to become a paid fire fighter.  Washougal fire fighters Earl Scott and Grant Brock filled these positions after he turned them down.

Morris decided instead to become a volunteer fire fighter.  “I had a good job, so I didn’t feel the need to be a paid fire fighter, and I still don’t.  I like it as a volunteer.  I Like giving back to my community.”

His job with the fire department presents both pleasant and not-so-pleasant experiences.  He notes that he can’t drive down a street any longer without noticing a home in which he most likely has helped someone in an emergency.  He also notes that the job places him in situations where he is helping people he knows or friends, which can be difficult.   Morris, whose  current rank is Battalion Chief over volunteers , says it’s all part of the job.

Morris has had good teachers along his fire career path.  One that he continues to admire is Darryl Alder, who was his first fire chief. “He was a great guy for teaching us the fundamentals of basic fire fighting.  He was a good friend, and I used to hunt with him, and played golf with him.  I thought he was a pretty good guy.  I saw him about 6 months ago, and he seems to be doing pretty good.”

In his role as Battalion Chief, Morris has gained management experience which augments his experience on city council.  He has observed some issues within the fire “management levels” of some local fire departments,  but Morris says that he has never observed any “issues” with fire fighters in the field.

“Those guys [fire fighters] are getting the job done.   I can’t recall a time when it was an argument or a disagreement, it was ‘side by side and work your butt off’.  I told every fire chief we’ve ever had (and I’ve been with every fire chief we’ve ever had), that I would not tolerate it if I find one of our guys or one of the others were arguing or fighting on the scene. We are not going to tolerate that. We have to work together; that is what the public is expecting.”

City Council

Morris became involved with Washougal City Government in 1992, when he was asked to fill a council position vacated by Keith Baker.  Morris remembers thinking “I’d like to try it”, which launched him on a challenging learning curve.

“You step into that [council position] already behind because everybody understands all the acronyms, and you are buried in reading just to try and get caught up. Everybody that comes on brand new figures that out; you are in a race to get caught up with everybody who are sitting there making policies and doing what you do.” said Morris.

During his years as council member, Morris served under four mayors: Mayors Chuck Crumpacker,  Jeff Guard, Stacee Sellers, and current Mayor Sean Guard.  He was also elected three times by the council to the position of Mayor Pro Tem.

Morris says he learned early on that he was one of seven people on the council who had a voice.  He was amazed at how long it took to get things done. For example, Morris said, when council worked on a project like the E-Street corridor, and after working on it for 4 or 5 years, some citizens “came out of the wood-work” and said they were not supportive of the project.   Even after all the meetings, discussions, and public hearings, people held off with this information.

He said this process also gets slowed when there are changes to the council, and those folks may not be familiar with or support a project.  This requires “backing up” and revisiting things again.  And the city staff must also adapt to this as well.

Morris says he appreciates the public who attend council meetings.  “They hold your feet to the fire, and the public does get a chance to have a voice. The public can feel ‘if I offer something constructive here, maybe someone will listen to me’.”

He recalled when he was living in White Salmon, the city dug a trench down the middle of a newly paved street.  He said he saw some of those same issues while he was on Washougal City council, noting that he felt privileged to have been part of the solutions.

He said that he has seen projects costing five million dollars, and never hear from people, nor see many at council meetings.  But, he noted, that raising a fee on something like dog licenses will inspire more people to show up.  He sees these things as being more personal to people.

Rod Morris receives council award after over 15 years on city council (photo Martha Martin)

When asked about his recent loss in his campaign for re-election to the city council by just 8 votes, he explained his perspective on such a close race.

[It was] “disappointing, but I also realize that it’s the process, and you can’t change the process. I have some regrets; I wish I had done some things a little bit differently to have won.  But you can’t go back and change it; you can run at the next election and maybe that’s where you make that change.  To be honest, it’s been a nice break, and the same with the three months that I’m taking off from the fire department right now.  It’s a nice break.  I’ve been doing things for the community for 34 years at the fire department.”

He says he has learned how to put this all into perspective, stating “A long time ago I learned that if ‘Rod’ is not at the fire department , guess what, it keeps right on going. If Rod is not at city council, it goes right on.”

Morris has recently applied for the current vacant City of Washougal council seat, which was vacated by Jon Russell.  “I think that having only lost by 8 votes, I don’t think that was a big gap or that the citizens said ‘no to Rod’.  It was 8 votes, and that was pretty darn close.”

He says he wants to give it another shot.  ” I still have a lot of interest in what goes on at city hall. Just the fact that I like the staff; we have a wonderful staff up there. I think I can bring the maturity and obviously experience to the council again.”

Passions and his Future

Morris lists  riding his 1984 Gold Wing motorcycle as one of his passions.  He also recently purchased a boat to use for fishing and water skiing.  He says he used to ride dirt bikes for many years in the Jones Creek area.

He says his biggest passion  is the fire department.  Even with a full-time job, being with the fire department gave him “a place to go and solve the problems of the world, and talk about things you would not talk about at home.”

Recently, Morris had some news that has made him focus more on his health.  He has been diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) that may have been triggered by an infection.  He said that he went to Dr. Hagen for planter fasciitis, and asked his doctor to check some lumps that had developed under his chin.  A blood test confirmed the diagnosis, and Morris is now undergoing Chemotherapy treatment.

He says he has been lucky with good health until now.  “Over my life time, I’ve been fairly healthy, but now I’m dealing with a Leukemia. The doctor is very upbeat; he thinks it is doable, we can get past it, and [I can] carry on the rest of my life.”

Morris has plans for his future, which include getting married this July to his fiance’ Nettie DeRoche.  He says he and his doctor are both confident that his CLL will go into remission, and he intends to complete the full recommended treatment.

Advice from years of experience

What advice does he have for those who choose to become a fire fighter?  Morris advises to “check it out, go down and talk with the guys.  It’s not for everybody.  I don’t understand why everybody is not a volunteer fireman, because I think that ‘wow’, this is fun, it’s helpful, you learn.”  He cites an example of how his training helped him with someone close to him.  “A girl that I was dating [who was] in a motor cycle crash…I helped to save her life with my training.  I’ve learned a lot about how to deal with life and death. It’s a great profession with a ton of great people in it.”

Regarding what he would tell someone who is in local politics;. Morris said he has talked with current council members.   “I told Connie Jo [Freeman], even though she is already in it, to make decisions based on what is best for the city.”

He stated that he doesn’t necessarily have to agree with everything she says, but he would hope that she is making her own decisions and not “being dictated to by somebody else.”  Morris says he is referring to past council behavior where on more than one ocaision there seemed to be  a glance from another council person,  suggesting that others were influencing council member decisions.

Morris also expressed other concerns with past behavior by council members, noting times when notes were passed back and forth, or there were cell phones being used during council meetings.  He said it appeared as if some council members were texting other council members.   Morris said that it is important that each member consider what is best for the City of Washougal, rather than rely on other council members to make their decisions.  He stressed using “your gut” as a tool in good decision making.

He says that he has had feedback from people who appreciate his council speaking style.  Rather than over react, he says he thinks things through. “I don’t repeat things just so people can hear me talking”.

Morris said that Washougal is his home, and that his “roots” are here.  “This is where I’ll be buried”, adding, with a bit of humor, “maybe in the scatter garden in the Washougal Cemetery”.

He went on to say “I think it’s been a nice experience having lived in Washougal. You get to know the people, and especially having been in the fire department and city council, and working at Tidland.  When I came to town, there was maybe 3200 population. We’ve grown a little from there.”

He added that he liked living two hours to the Pacific Ocean, two hours to skiing on Mt. Hood, and two hours to the desert.

His suggestion to those who choose Washougal as their home is “If you live here, make it better then when you moved in.  Make a difference.”