Fired up about fire coverage
A large number of Powell Butte residents voiced their frustrations over fire coverage in their areaOn Tuesday evening, 135 Powell Butte residents gathered to air their frustrations about fire coverage in the Powell Butte community.
One of the key organizers, Art Proctor, opened the meeting by pointing out that Powell Butte pays approximately 22 percent of the tax base that goes into Crook County Fire and Rescue.
“We’re not getting 22 percent,” he added. “The first thing we need to do, is we need to decide how we think this ought to be handled — what’s best for the district or for the community of Powell Butte.”
Powell Butte resident Scott Granger pointed out that he had spoken with Crook County Fire Chief Matt Smith earlier, and Smith was asked not to attend the gathering by the meeting organizers.
Granger thought Smith should have been invited, and several other Powell Butte residents concurred, adding that since they were not authorities on firefighting, he should have been present.
In 2011, a similar meeting was called by the community to address similar concerns. The two biggest differences between that meeting and Tuesday evening’s meeting were the numbers in attendance (30 in 2011), and the fact that CCFR staff — apart from budget committee and board members — weren’t invited on Wednesday.
In the response area of Prineville, CCFR brings in approximately $1,362,313 in tax revenue. The Powell Butte response area is $449,277, and Juniper Canyon response area is $288,410. The percentages amount to 65 percent, 21 percent, and 14 percent, respectively.
“That adds up to $2,100,000, which is what we have estimated we will bring in, in tax revenue,” said Smith Thursday.
He added that CCFR also gets revenue from ambulance income for running ambulance calls.
The district has a $1,483,771 million in contingency, and $1,493,659 million in three separate reserve accounts, which include fire apparatus, maintenance, and a building fund.
“The fire district has to have that because their budget year goes from June to June, and they don’t collect taxes until November, so they always have to have some funds to carry them from June to November,” explained budget committee member Arlene Curths.
She said that compared to other districts, CCFR has a generous contingency and reserve.
“This fire district has been very careful about being fiscally solvent,” she pointed out. “That’s how they paid for these buildings. They didn’t pay for people in them, they paid for the building and for equipment, and if you read their mission statement, it says that very clearly.”
She added that between the CCFR Board of Directors and the Budget Committee Board, six are Powell Butte residents.
“They voted for this budget. Only two people (total) did not vote for this budget.”
In a prior Central Oregonian article in 2011, CCFR board member Keith Eager said the board had a plan in their budget for staffing for the past 2-3 years. When the economy crashed, they held off on filling these positions. The plan for the fire district has evolved in three stages. The first stage involved getting the substations built. The second stage involved getting the equipment up to standards. The final stage was for staffing-which consequently was put on hold until the current 2013-2014 budget cycle.
Curtz indicated that in the approved budget in May, the funding was added for an additional firefighter. She said that it was not stated in the budget that the position was dedicated for Powell Butte, but it has been discussed that the intent was to put a full-time professional firefighter at the Powell Butte substation, 24-7, and provide an ambulance.
“I believe it. I actually believe that it is the intent,” she stated.
Smith reinforced this statement Wednesday morning when discussing the budget message compiled by CCFR for the current fiscal year.
“We’ve never had this in our budget before,” said Smith. “By going up to four per shift, we think we’re able to put one of the career people into work at a substation.”
He added that Powell Butte is the most strategic place to put their resources.
“It’s more of a strategic move for us on how we place out resources, and how it best protects the district.
“If we’re wrong, then we’ll change.”
He added that historically, there was a Fire Marshal, a Division Chief, and a Deputy Chief, and they had three career firefighters per shift. In 2012-13, the Division Chief position was eliminated, and they added two more firefighter positions. In the current budget cycle, the Fire Marshal and Deputy Chief positions were consolidated, and they were able to add one more firefighter, for a total of four full-time career firefighter positions for three separate shifts (12 total).
Dennis Merrill, who is also a member-at-large on the CCFR budget committee, said that he voted for the budget. He spoke to Smith for two hours on Tuesday.
“We had the meeting right up here at the station in Powell Butte,” he noted.
He said that Smith intends to have the Powell Butte Station staffed by October, but it takes time to hire and train new staff.
“It also has to do with the number of volunteers that he has, and the number of students that he has available,” said Merrill. “But I believe that he on the right path to get that done — that is what he told me face-to-face yesterday. He expects that by October he can do that.”
He added that Smith also intends to have an ambulance in the Powell Butte Substation, and would like to have that in place by February or March 2014. He emphasized that there are no guarantees that there would be someone at the station 100 percent of the time — even if it were staffed 24-7, because of the need to respond to other fires and other circumstances.
“I just wanted to share that with you to give you a little bit of a balance here, that I think that the chief is working towards the goal in the budget to make that 24-7 staffing at this station,” said Merrill.
Tom Alexander spoke at the meeting about the fire that occurred in Powell Butte on July 29 on Riggs Road, which is less than two miles from the Powell Butte Substation.
“Bottom line is you’re here tonight to decide and try to see why we can’t get this station over here manned,” said Alexander. “There are good questions and good answers on each side. It’s more complicated than you think it is, and it’s like everything else — it can be resolved. We have a lot of manpower here tonight if people would just get involved and see what you can do to make it happen. It’s not an easy fix because you are talking about money.”
He added that the issue of volunteers is also complicated, since there is a lot of training and time involved. There are volunteers for the CCFR District who live in Powell Butte, although the numbers have declined in recent years.
The question of insurance was also a large topic of discussion. Powell Butte resident Dale Tompkins addressed the topic of Insurance Services Organization (ISO) and the rating of fire protection districts. This is an ongoing concern by some residents, and Smith clarified that the CCFR district is rated 4/8b. According to ISO ratings, if a resident in the district is within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant and five miles of one of the three fire stations, it is rated 4. If they are not within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant, but are within five miles of a station, they are rated 8b.
“The ISO office just provides information for insurance companies,” pointed out Smith. “They don’t give a certification to how good or poorly a fire department does.”
He added that they have to allocate their resources to cover the entire district.
“We have to put our resources in a spot that is most useful. You don’t know where the next call is coming from, but the way you move stations up to help other stations really helps dictate how you place your resources.”
He pointed out that as CCFR moves forward in the future, they have to be conscious about what is best for the entire district — not just for 1201 (Prineville), Powell Butte, or Juniper Canyon.
“It’s a holistic approach,” remarked Smith.