Depoe Bay Fire District Chief Josh Williams presented his fire district’s request for a property tax increase so his fire department can better respond to everything from house and wildland fires to car wrecks. Williams said that the fire district is getting many more calls per year but, at the same time, the number of volunteers who show up to ride the trucks out to an emergency is not as reliable as in the past.
Williams said volunteers are dedicated – but with so many working 8 to 5, response numbers vary from zero and go up from there – some days very slowly. Williams said there is only one full time firefighter guaranteed to drive the truck – and it’s been that way for 23 years. The truck rolls and the volunteers meet up at the scene. But Williams quickly added that the era of relying on volunteers to continue to do the heavy lifting is over. And it’s a problem that’s occurring nation-wide. It’s not just Depoe Bay.
Williams said the tax increase of $10 a month for a $200,000 home will put three full time firefighters on the “first-out” fire truck, 24/7. Responding volunteers can man the second fire truck as soon as they arrive on scene or at the station.
And there is this critical point – if there’s a house or building fire, OSHA rules say there must be two firefighters manning the truck and water lines outside, before two firefighters can enter a burning building.
Williams told the council that his three full time firefighters and volunteer ranks are stretched so thin that he said he can no longer assure Depoe Bay Fire District residents that they’re going to get the job done. He said that they’ve had the same staffing for the past 23 years – but times have changed. The area has grown and the coast remains a popular tourist area. He said in the case of car wrecks, out of district residents in those car wrecks get a bill from the fire district for response services. Their insurance companies pay the bill. But as a whole, he says, the drop off in volunteer capabilities is the elephant in the room.
Councilor Jerome Grant raised the issue that a 12% increase in call volumes over the past year should not cause a 75% increase in property taxes going to the fire district. Chief Williams again reminded him that the bulk of the labor being provided by volunteers simply isn’t available anymore. Also, fire rescue calls often come in clumps – stretching resources paper thin. And calling for mutual aid from Lincoln City or Newport takes many precious minutes in life or death situations. He reiterated that paid staff is the only option the district has.
There was some grumbling that the firefighters were unionized but the grumbling soon subsided.
Chief Williams said his current paid staff are always tending to equipment inspection and maintenance, fire hall upkeep, training of CERT volunteers, undergoing training or providing training for volunteers, applying for and administering state and federal grants – so they are busy, and not just when they’re responding to emergencies.
The tax override measure on the May 19th ballot is number 15-157.
Chief Williams’ presentation was informational only for the city council and for citizens to speak out for or against the ballot measure. There was one citizen speaking in favor. None against.