NORTH BEND — Basketball players arriving in Coos Bay on Wednesday for the Class 3A state tournament were treated to a hamburger dinner as part of their opening-night gala that also included a 3-point contest.
For the seventh straight year, those burgers were cooked by members of the North Bend Fire Department, which has embraced the opportunity to help make the tournament a positive experience for the visiting teams.
North Bend Assistant Fire Chief Jim Brown said the department readily took on the role of chief barbecue when the tournament returned to the Bay Area in 2011.
“There was a need and we were willing to step in,” Brown said. “That’s what we do at the fire department. We are in public service.”
Brown said the event has benefits both for the visiting teams and the firefighters.
For the fire department, it’s a chance to teach the younger members the value of community service.
“We’re an organization that helps people,” he said. “We help people in bad times. This is an opportunity to help people in a situation that isn’t bad.
“It’s good to have that positive situation.”
Plus, it’s another opportunity to bring the department together.
“Our entire department, we are a team,” Brown said. “Between our volunteers, paid staff and administration, we all step up and help out.”
North Bend athletic director Mike Forrester said the fire department has been a great asset to the school and community.
“They’re a group of guys who like to do stuff to help out,” he said. “You never have to ask them twice. They’re always there.”
For more than 50 years, the high school has had a joint partnership with the fire department that includes the Miss Flame game during football season.
“It’s a great relationship we have with them,” Forrester said. “There’s a lot of guys that work at the North Bend Fire Department that are North Bend grads.
“They like to be able to come back and help the school out as well. I think we’re pretty lucky to have those guys there.”
The group flipping burgers and veggie burgers Wednesday included Leroy Griggs, who has been in the fire service 62 years, the first 11 in Coquille and the rest in North Bend.
"It's in my blood," Griggs said, adding that helping out is what the department does.
"It's a civic project," he said. "We're just involved in all the school sports."
Brown said though Griggs retired two years ago, he keeps showing up at the station to help with things.
"We appreciate him being here so much," Brown said.
There have been memorable barbecues for the state tournament over the years, Brown said, remembering a couple of times the department had to bring big trucks to North Bend Middle School to shelter the barbecue and firefighters from the wind and other elements.
One thing stands out every year, Brown said.
“The thing that we really like is the kids show great appreciation for us doing it,” he said.
The fire department’s involvement doesn’t end with the barbecue. The organization also is one of the 16 businesses, families or organizations that hosts a team for a meal during the weekend.
The department had Vale the first five years of the tournament and the Coquille girls squad last year.
“It’s a neat thing,” Brown said.
The firefighters provide a meal in the station, play games with the team, let the players spray water from fire hoses and give them rides in a fire truck, as well as providing educational materials on fire safety.
Brown said the firefighters developed a positive relationship with Vale’s players and coaches over the years they hosted the Vikings.
Some of the Vale parents brought their families back to the Bay Area in the summers when the weather was nicer and a friend of Brown traveling through the east side of the state met one of the players who was thrilled to see someone from North Bend and talked about the fire department, Brown said.
The teams the department has hosted also have given them signed team photos, which take up a portion of one of the walls, opposite photos of fires and car accidents the firefighters have responded to.
Brown is a big fan of the tournament being in Coos Bay.
“We get to have exposure to our community for people who wouldn’t normally come here,” he said. “The other side is just the experience for the kids themselves. Most of these kids are not going to go on to play basketball.
“When they are 30 years old, they are going to be coming through town and remember, ‘We played in the big tournament here.’ This is going to be a lasting memory.”
It’s one Brown and the other firefighters are happy to contribute to.