Woodburn Fire District Chief Joe Budge stopped by the Gervais City Council meeting on June 3 to thank members of the community for approving the recent bond that was on the May 18 ballot.
The bond measure for capital expenses was a renewal of the previous bond and is expected to raise about $12.7 million over the next 20 years. It was approved by more than 69 percent of voters in Woodburn, Gervais and the surrounding area.
"The passage of the bond will ensure that our firefighters have the tools equipment and facilities that they need to provide the high level of emergency response service that the residents deserve and expect," Budge said in a press release.
The bond replaced the district's current bond, which expires in 2022 and provides funds for capital expenditures including emergency response vehicles, district facilities and life-saving equipment such as thermal imagers, breathing apparatus, cardiac monitors and other emergency equipment. Bond approval allows the district to retain all firefighter-medics who provide emergency medical and fire response for 39,000 people that reside within the 75 square miles served by the fire district.
Increased firefighter staffing
The immediate result of the bond approval is the ability to use the district's reserve funds that had previously been earmarked for capital expenses for the hiring of one additional career firefighter. The new firefighter will be used to fill a new position created by the start of a peak activity unit that will be staffed by two firefighters four days a week during hours of high call volume. The peak activity unit will increase the availability of the fire district's only full-time staffed fire engine.
The availability of the career staffed engine has been declining in recent years due to an increasing number of emergency responses and frequent overlapping calls. The total number of emergency responses is expected to top 3,000 by the end of 2021.
"The continued financial support could not have come at a better time as the population in the area is expanding rapidly with the new residential construction in both Woodburn and Gervais communities," Budge said. "The bond funds provide the fire district with a stable financial foundation that will allow the district services to grow with the increasing demands of the growing communities."
The new peak activity unit is the start of what will eventually become a second 24-hour emergency response unit. The district has placed a high priority on incrementally adding new firefighter positions over the coming years with the goal of a second engine staffed with career firefighters as the growth of the communities and resulting tax revenue allows. This goal will be realized much sooner with all capital expenses funded by the bond, which allows the use of the district's permanent tax rate and local option levy for staffing and operating expenses.
The district is making plans for the purchase of replacement fire engines, tenders and support vehicles that will commence when the bond funds become available beginning in July of 2022. The first apparatus to be purchased will be an air unit and a brush rig.
The new air unit will replace the current 1990 model that provides compressed air in the cylinders that firefighters use in structure fires and other toxic environments. The air unit also supports firefighter rehab during extended emergency incidents.
The brush unit is a small engine on a heavy-duty pick-up chassis. The new brush unit will be one of two of this type of apparatus that are well suited to fight brush and grass fires that require off-road access. The district plans replace eight of the 13 front-line apparatus as they reaches the end of its reliable use over the 20-year term of the bond.
Gervais Fire Station reestablishment
The district will also be moving forward with the planned partnership with the city of Gervais for the joint construction and use of a building that is the first step in the reestablishment of Station 23. An existing fire engine and two of the district's six student resident volunteers will be moved to the station when complete. The student volunteer firefighters will be backed up by career firefighters responding from Woodburn.
Under the terms of the concept agreement with Gervais, the district will have use of the structure for 25 years. Also included in the bond plan is the purchase of land in the Gervais area that could serve as the future location of a permanent Station 23 if the growth that is projected over the next 20 years actually occurs. If the growth does occur, funds for the construction of the station would come from a future bond after the new bond expires.
Projected Insurance Savings
The increased staffing, reestablishment of Station 23 and the development of a training facility that is also included in the bond plan is expected to allow the fire district to improve the Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating from the current three to a two rating. Fewer than 5% of the more than 41,000 fire agencies in the U.S. have an ISO rating of two or less. The improvement of the ISO rating is expected to save property owners about 5% on their insurance premiums which equates to about half of the cost of the bond for the average residential property owner in the fire district. Fire district officials expect to have the ISO rating for the district resurveyed in 2022.
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