Get to know the Central Valley: Andy Ponce credits Gervais High and the Woodburn Fire for his success
This is part of a series introducing individual readers who are passionate about our Mid-Valley community.
Gervais resident Andy Ponce doesn’t have a lot of free time. Caring for his family, designing custom stock for his company, and his job as department head at Portland Fire & Rescue take up most of his time.
Ponce credits the Gervais School District and Woodburn Fire District for starting his rise with Portland Fire and Rescue.
Ponce graduated in 1994 from Jervis University, where he participated in the district’s emergency services class. He said he wasn’t the best student and didn’t even expect to graduate, but the program changed all his plans. A basic firefighting course was all it took to hook him up.
“I saw teamwork and the ability to help people in their time of need,” Ponce said. “I was planning to just work in construction and do it for a living. I didn’t really have any plans and then I found this and absolutely fell in love with it.”
Ponce said the Woodburn Fire District took him on as a volunteer when he turned 18. The leaders there took the time to mentor him. This guidance and training was invaluable when he later competed with hundreds of others for promotions in Portland.
He was certified as an EMT and then tested in departments across Oregon before being hired in 1998 by Portland Fire and Rescue.
He said his colleagues have become his family, spending 24-hour shifts together and often being in stressful situations where it is necessary to mitigate their danger.
“I’m actually probably closer to a lot of the guys and gals I work with than I am to my brother or sister,” Ponce joked.
Ponce was a lieutenant, then captain, then deputy chief before being promoted to department chief last year. During his 25 years with Portland Fire, he has remained connected to the Woodburn Fire District for nearly three decades. Woodburn President Joe Budge praised Ponce’s service during his swearing-in last year.
Ponce said he had the opportunity to mentor the son of a Woodburn district commander who was assigned to Portland and completed part of his probation at Ponce Station.
“It kind of worked out because his father spent some time with me and then I spent some time with him to help him,” he said.
His start in Woodburn led to his commitment to volunteer work, and he now serves on the Woodburn Fire District Board of Directors.
Ponce said volunteers are needed in the Woodburn Fire District and areas across the state, especially when disasters like last month’s winter storm strike. “This is the time when we need people to step up and help each other,” he said.
In his spare time, he is with his 13-year-old son, 11-year-old daughter, and his high school sweetheart and wife, Heather. Their two children play basketball and Ponce is a vocal father on the sidelines.
He also turned his hobby of making wood, carbon and aluminum arrows into a business, opening Addictive Archery in 2010. Ponce loves the outdoors and will relieve stress on his days off by hiking, hunting, fishing or camping. He began making arrows, initially selling them to friends and family before they “quickly blew up.”
An old house on the Gervais farm was converted into his den and store. Ponce said he has dozens of stocks in the pipeline at any given time. It was made YouTube series For years he has been demonstrating the process of making stocks and also serves on the board of directors of a company Compton Traditional Bowhuntersa national non-profit organization for traditional bowhunting.
“I turn on the radio and draw stocks all day,” he said. “I often lose track of time.” “It’s kind of a work of art for me. I try to come up with all these different designs and colors.”
Diane Lugo covers the Oregon Legislature and equality issues. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org Or on Twitter @Diane Lugo
This article originally appeared in the Salem Statesman: Meet Mid-Valley: Andy Ponce, veteran firefighter and arrow maker