U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden made a stop in Hermiston on Tuesday to honor the workers of Shearer’s Foods and the city’s efforts to support its employees following the Feb. 22 fire that destroyed the plant.
“When people in D.C. ask me what it means to talk about a special community bond, I say ‘Come look at Hermiston,’ ” Wyden said during an appearance at the Hermiston Community Center. “This town of less than 20,000 showed an entire country how a community pulls together in a time of crisis.”
Wyden said he wanted to honor the “Shearer’s family and the community leaders who stepped up to meet the people’s needs.”
The senator presented gifts to Mayor Dave Drotzmann and Jackie Chavez, Shearer’s plant manager – each received a U.S. flag that had recently flown over the U.S. Capitol.
“Dave is an eye doctor, and when it comes to this community, he always has his eye on the ball,” Wyden said. “He saw the dark smoke billowing over the town and his first concern was for the workers.”
Drotzmann said the explosion and resulting fire wiped out around 200 jobs “in a matter of minutes,” and required a community-wide effort to support the employees.
“The community came together and said ‘These people are important,’ ” said Drotzmann. “So, we reached out to the county, state and federal level to help these people with resources.” Drotzmann noted that the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce held a job fair after the fire in which 42 companies were on hand to recruit employees.
Chavez thanked her fellow Shearer’s colleagues for stepping up during the crisis and helping get everyone out of the plant within six minutes. Seven people were hospitalized, but no fatalities occurred.
“The reality is, my team supported me and everyone else that day,” she said. “Shearer’s was a family and the hardest thing is walking away from the future we had together.”
“(Chavez) represents the best of the Hermiston spirit,” said Wyden.