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Rural fire district will host a volunteer academy starting on Wednesday, March 13, with 24 participants

COURTESY PHOTO: ESTACADA RURAL FIRE DISTRICT - Estacada Fire will host a training academy for new volunteers.

As Estacada Fire transitions away from a contract for service with Clackamas Fire, the department will facilitate a training academy for new volunteers.

The firefighting academy, which begins Wednesday, March 3, includes 24 volunteers. The nationally certified program will run every other Wednesday and on weekends until June.

Steve Abel, who is serving as interim chief of the Estacada Rural Fire District through June, said the district received a total of 43 volunteer applications. Along with the 24 new volunteers who are being trained at the academy, there are 12 returning who previously volunteered with Estacada Fire.

The district has added a waiting list for volunteers and will potentially hold an additional volunteer academy this fall.

"I've been absolutely impressed with the community outpouring," Abel said. "It's a tremendous task to get a fire department stuffed and up and running. In an era where organizations are struggling to find volunteer firefighters, to have to cap it after such a short period, shows the level of community support for the fire district."

Abel noted that the pool of volunteers is a diverse one, with members ranging from recent high school graduates to retirees and includes construction workers, veterans and a physician.

"It's a really great cross section of the community," he said. "People bring a vast amount of different experiences."

Abel and Estacada Fire's board of directors are also in the process of hiring career staff members, including a fire chief, division chiefs, nine firefighters and administrative staff.

Estacada voters said no to a proposed merger with Clackamas Fire in the November 2020 election.

Estacada and Clackamas Fire first entered into an intergovernmental agreement in 2016, through which Clackamas provided fire prevention and training services in Estacada. In a later version of the IGA, these services expanded to include response units to ensure effective response to fires and other incidents; advanced life support staffing, which is the highest level of pre-hospital field care; and a joint operational plan for water tender operators and rehab volunteers.

The two agencies signed a contract for services at the beginning of last year.

In the contract, Clackamas Fire staffs the Estacada Fire Station with three firefighters for all 24-hour shifts. Previously, Estacada Fire was only able to provide that level of coverage 68% of the time. The George Fire Station is staffed with additional volunteers, and Clackamas provides Estacada with 24-hour fire chief coverage.

The proposed merger came under scrutiny by some Estacada community members in the aftermath of the Riverside and Dowty Road fires. Critics expressed dissatisfaction with Clackamas Fire's performance during the disaster and the agency's willingness to collaborate with the community.

Abel said he's been impressed with the level of commitment from the community as Estacada Fire rebuilds.

"There's been a tremendous amount of community support. We've had people step up to volunteer in any way they can," he said. "The doors will be open as Estacada Fire on July 1. There will be a professionally trained fire department."

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