Fortifying the fire department
Emergency response calls within the Woodburn Fire District are projected to be almost double in 2023 from what they were a decade earlier.
With that projection in mind, the district has begun taking steps to strengthen its peak activity preparedness and engage an extra fire engine to help cover what officials describe as a surging number of 9-1-1 calls.
District records show an incremental increase in emergency incidents, from 1,978 incidents in 2010 to 2,811 in 2019. The pandemic-crimped year of 2020 showed a slight dip from 2019 with 2,740. But this year is expected to record more than 3,400, and projections envision that climbing to around 4,000 by 2023.
The projected emergency calls for service in 2021 represents a 23 percent increase from 2019.
"(Emergency incidents) have been steadily increasing of the past 10 years, all but the recent COVID year," WFD Chief Joe Budge said. "That year sort of masked the situation; it's been laying in the weeds, and it came rushing back this year."
Budge said increased development, such as the Amazon project, at once contributes to the incidents and finances the district growth.
With that backdrop and projection, WFD will begin operating a new peak activity fire engine on Nov. 1. Funding for four new firefighter positions to meet staff needs has come through the rapid residential and industrial development occurring within the district.
Budge said the peak activity engine operate from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and will respond out of the main fire station on Newberg Highway. The new engine staff will include a paramedic, augmenting advanced life support services funded by the local option levy voters approved in 2018.
When overlapping emergency calls occur, the district must rely on volunteer firefighters or neighboring fire districts to respond to calls. Currently the overlapping incidents are occurring about twice each day with most of the overlaps happening on weekdays.
District officials estimate that the new peak activity engine will reduce the reliance on the neighboring fire districts by about 30 percent and result in much quicker response times to emergency scenes. They stress that quicker response times have a direct correlation to positive emergency outcomes.
For example, according to the American Heart Association, in cases of cardiac arrest without bystander CPR, the chances of victim survival falls 7% to 10% for every minute of delay until defibrillation by a paramedic.
To provide staffing for the peak activity engine, Woodburn Fire District welcomed four new career firefighters during its Oct. 20 board meeting. The new engine will be staffed with experienced firefighters and the new firefighters will be assigned to one of three shifts with incumbent firefighters after a six-week training academy. The academy provides the minimum skills necessary to perform as part of a four member crew, while the entire training program for requires a year to complete.
The four newcomers are Tyson Gradwahl, Jorden Jacobucci, Dylan Selleck and Jared Weaver. All four have previous experience as volunteer firefighters and hold fire science degrees from either Chemeketa, Portland or Central Oregon community colleges.
Gradwahl, who grew up in Gresham, said he always aimed for a career in emergency services; his father is a police officer.
"It is an honor to serve the community of Woodburn, and I am looking forward to growing in my career as a firefighter," Gradwahl said.
Gradwahl spent three years as a volunteer for the Sisters Fire District in central Oregon.
Jacobucci also has emergency-service work in her blood; the Woodburn High School graduate is the daughter of WFD Lt. Joe Jacobucci and had been volunteering with the fire district for several years.
In addition to an associate's degree in fire protection, Jacobucci is also a certified paramedic. She shared that she "feels like I grew up in the fire station and I'm excited about following in my dad's footsteps."
Selleck grew up in Banks where he began volunteering at the Banks Fire District when he was a junior in high school.
"I'm excited to work for the Woodburn Fire District because of the great culture and high level of pride the members take in their training and service to the community," Selleck said.
Weaver is from Eagle Creek. His father retired as a firefighter for the Port of Portland Fire & Rescue. He is currently finishing up his paramedicine degree through the Oregon Institute of Technology.
Weaver said his aspiration to be a firefighter stems from "the opportunity to impact the lives of others in a positive way every day. The fact that people trust us with handling the hardest situations holds a challenge. In honoring this position I want to not only succeed but excel."
District officials said the new hires went through an extensive testing and hiring process earlier this spring and were ranked in the top 12 out of 72 candidates. Applicants underwent a written test, an oral interview and an assessment of their firefighting and emergency medical skills.
The fire district currently operates only one engine that is staffed by career firefighters on a full-time basis.
"The hiring of the four new members is the first step to a full-time second engine" Budge said. "It takes 12 firefighters to provide full-time day and night staffing for one fire engine."
The district hopes to hire additional firefighters over the coming years to complete the second engine staffing with the timeline dependent upon the rate of growth for the city.
Woodburn Fire District emergency-incident responses by year
2021: 3,480 (projected)
2022: 3,741 (projected)
2023: 4,002 (projected)
-- Woodburn Fire District
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