Astoria, which sits at the mouth of the Columbia River, is home of the state’s main maritime training facility. In a region filled with mountains, the Columbia river, runs from British Columbia all the way to the Pacific Ocean, passes through 63 cities and several shipping ports on the way, is vital for worldwide trade and moving supplies throughout the Pacific Northwest. 

Near the mouth of the Columbia in Astoria, The Marine and Environmental Research and Training Station (MERTS) makes maritime education programs available to students from varied income levels. It serves degree-seeking students as part of Clatsop Community College, who want to work in the maritime industry as well as experienced mariners who need additional courses or training programs. There are also courses in environmental studies, scientific research training, and industrial and manufacturing technology. 

One of the most valuable aspects of the MERTS is its three-story training facility, which Kathy Deggendorfer, founder and trustee at The Roundhouse Foundation (RHF), was able to tour recently. The building is constructed like a ship with metal staircases outside and inside to simulate being on-board a large vessel. This structure provides students the opportunity to train for all aspects of fighting a fire on a ship.

“One of my favorite things about Foundation work is the opportunity to meet the passionate people who create and sustain important programming around Oregon,” said Deggendorfer. “A tour of the fire training structure at MERTS included a chance to experience a fire simulation in a steel ship interior.  The heat, smoke, and intensity of the experience was downright scary! As flames lapped overhead and smoke filled the rooms it was clear the importance for students to learn how to deal with ship fires.”

A fire at sea is more dangerous than a fire on land. The construction of steel vessels radiates heat and makes fires burn hotter. Everyone working on a vessel is required to complete training in firefighting. The building allows instructors to simulate different types of fires in a relatively safe environment that still has the added charge of working among real flames. On her tour, Deggendorfer saw fire simulations in various rooms “on board” like sleeping areas, kitchens, engine rooms, and another room that simulates what would happen if fire got into a ceiling or overhead area. Every year, nearly 2000 students — both from the college and local fire departments—use these fire simulation rooms and the training equipment that goes with it. 

Until recently, the oxygen compressor MERTS used for filling tanks used in both scuba and firefighting was nearly 20 years old and in disrepair. This tool is vital in firefighting since it guarantees firefighters a safe and uninterrupted source of oxygen while they are working. With compressor parts no longer available, educators had to patch it together with discarded parts from other fire departments. Some of the wearable fire equipment was also over two decades old. Grants from RHF have helped finance a new compressor, oxygen tanks for each student,  and fire safety clothing.

The importance of specially trained fire crew, in an area like Astoria that is dependent on the shipping trade, is integral to a successful local economy. Fire Science Instructional Assistant Tony Como expressed the excitement felt on campus when the two compressors arrived.  “Thank you for everything  you did to make this happen. I honestly did not think we would get new compressors in my lifetime. This wasn’t just a want —it was a need!”

Learn more about MERTS.

Photos courtesy of Clatsop Community College.



Published On: June 12th, 2024 / Categories: Featured Grant Stories, Foundation Highlights, Grant News /