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He Died in My Place

Sometimes the best way to say thanks is to share a story in memory. This is the case with Bruce Ramberg, Coquille Church member, who should have been on a fiery rooftop.

Ramberg leads a full life today that includes roles such as husband to Kathy, who serves her local church as head deaconess and cradle roll teacher; father to Torie and Chad; grandfather of five; retired career firefighter; successful predator hunter; and cancer survivor.

A career firefighter for 35 years, Ramberg was just 50 years old when he was diagnosed with throat cancer. Personable by nature, he had formed very close bonds with several of his colleagues.

One friendship in particular was with Randy Carpenter, fire captain, who, learning of Ramberg’s cancer, took him aside. Sobbing deeply, he told Ramberg how very sorry he was for his diagnosis. They both cried together.

Undergoing surgery and then radiation and chemotherapy, Ramberg was unable to work. Now, his colleagues were needed to cover his shifts.

Then the afternoon of Nov. 25, 2002, arrived. News reports recorded what happened:

It was early Monday afternoon when firefighters responded to a general (fire) alarm at 340 South Second St. in Coos Bay, and found what appeared to be an ordinary call — light, yellow-brown smoke indicating an average fire but belied the ferocity of the fire to come.

Farwest Truck and Auto Supply owner, Kim Macfee, said he and employees noticed a light smoke in the store shortly after 1 p.m. After checking the building's rooftop, Macfee said he thought nothing was wrong, but the smoke continued to grow.

By 1:45 p.m., Macfee said the smoke thickened and after calling the fire department and grabbing important data, he, about eight employees and several customers walked out of the store and waited for the fire department to arrive. All were uninjured.

According to Stan Gibson, Fire Chief, the initial response inside the building included two teams of four firefighters, one on the first floor, a second in the mezzanine. A third group walked atop a rooftop that became spongy and malleable from the searing heat.

And then, without warning sufficient for escape, the roof collapsed.

The fire took the lives of three of Ramberg’s colleagues:

  • Robert "Chuck" Hanners, 33, a Coos Bay resident, died at Bay Area Hospital after being taken from the fire. A volunteer with eight years of experience, he never regained consciousness after being dragged from the blaze.
  • Jeffery "Jeff" E. Common, 30, a Coos Bay resident and volunteer for 12 years at Coos Bay and North Bend, also died inside the burning building.
  • Randall "Randy" Carpenter, 45, a Coos Bay resident and a career firefighter for 15 years, died inside the building.

The most humbling part for Ramberg was the reality that Carpenter had taken his place that day on the firefighting crew.

Ramberg was supposed to have been fighting that fire on that fateful day instead of Carpenter. For had it not been for his cancer diagnosis and treatment, he most certainly would have been fighting that fire, stationed in the same position as Carpenter. Ramberg has never forgotten that a very good friend died in his place.

Ramberg continues to remember his friends through deeds of service to others in his family, church and community.