NORTH BEND — As soon as the fire sirens began wailing, then 5-year-old Mark Meaker knew it was time to go. The toddler without hesitation and with speed ran to his back yard, climbed up a tree and onto his neighbor’s all-glass greenhouse.
“I would walk onto the roof because it would get me high enough to where I could see the fire trucks coming down this major street that we lived near,” said North Bend Fire Chief Meaker. “I kept doing this until I was about seven years old and by that point had grown enough to where one day I went up there and heard a crack.”
“All of sudden I’m falling down through the roof of the greenhouse where I landed on the concrete floor on my feet. I had shattered glass all around me and not a single scratch. It was like a 7-foot high roof and so at that point I knew I was destined to be a firefighter.”
After 48 years of fire service, Meaker announced earlier this month that he is retiring. Meaker, who began his career in 1971 as a volunteer firefighter with the former Arcade Fire District in Sacramento, Calif., said he and his wife are moving to Idaho to act as caregivers for his 94-year-old father.
Known fondly as the “fix-it guy,” Meaker has throughout his career approached each task and challenge laid before him with a can-do attitude and level of professionalism that has lead him to work his way up the ranks.
Meaker’s extensive career includes serving as a company officer for about eight years, a battalion chief for six years, an operations assistant chief for about five years and fire chief for about 22 years. He has served on the now Sacramento Metro Fire District, the Logan City Fire Department in Utah and most recently the North Bend Fire Department.
“In high school I learned I could write really well and I loved following things on politics, civics and the military,” said Meaker. “I had decided I wanted to be a journalist, but I remember being torn between that and wanting to go into fire technology.”
It was advice from his step-dad as well as a few fire captains that convinced him going after both seemed like the best thing to do. Since then, Meaker has earned his associates degree in fire technology, a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in public administration.
All areas of study that he said have equipped him to become the best fire chief that he could be and allow him to work successfully in numerous departments and with city officials. Looking back at his time in North Bend, Meaker expressed his joy with serving the department for the last six years and working with such a hardworking, experienced team which has now become like a family to him.
“The team here is very mature, experienced and exceedingly well-trained,” said Meaker. “They all have good attitudes and a willingness to do the right thing. I know they are going to do just fine without me and I hope they felt that when I was here that they had access to the fire chief, were treated fairly and had some fun.”
Some of the accomplishments that he’s most proud include establishing the department’s fire inspection program, building its technical rescue team and forming a relationship with the Eugene-Springfield Fire Department to use their state-of-the-art training facility.
“One other thing I’m very proud of is that in my 22 years as a fire chief at three different departments which were all unionized I’ve never had a union grievance filed under my administration,” he said. “Issues come up all the time, but when they do I’ve always been willing to sit down with the union and work through the problems to make it fair for the city and for the employees.”
Meaker also pointed out the improved relationships both internally and with other fire departments throughout the area.
Today, the North Bend Fire Department performs at such a high level of performance. Meaker said taking a look at its metrics is pretty incredible. The team is usually on scene in five minutes or less about 96 percent of the time, he said.
Meaker’s long list of accomplishments, awards and experience as a career firefighter could easily fill up a book, but some of his most proud achievements over his 48 years of service include the folks he’s helped and the relationships he’s formed.
“I want to thank the people of North Bend for the honor and opportunity to have been their fire chief. It has been the highlight of my professional career,” said Meaker. “I would also like to thank North Bend City Administrator Terence O’ Connor who has been the best boss I’ve ever worked for as well as the North Bend City Council for being the best council I’ve ever worked for. They have been totally supportive.”
“I want to thank all the firefighters again who accepted me when I first started six years ago. I have so much confidence in them and am really going to miss them.”
Meaker’s last piece of advice for his team is simple.
“As they said in the 1960s ‘just keep on keeping on.’”
A celebration is being held for the retiring fire chief on July 17 at The Back Alley Pub and Grill on 1225 Virginia St. in North Bend. The event will begin at 6 p.m. and will go on until 8 p.m. Meaker’s last working day will be July 18.