Integrating Lincoln County’s far-flung fire departments gets off to a bumpy start – but they all agree it’s a start
A long time in coming and maybe requiring even more time in arriving, appeared to be the temporary verdict on plans to “semi” coordinate firefighting operations among a few of Lincoln County’s far flung fire departments. The proposal is called the Central Coast Fire Authority.
Fire Board members from Depoe Bay, Newport Rural and Central Coast Fire Departments along with city councilors from Newport, got a big splash of fire fighting consolidation information Thursday night, with everyone in the same room, all at the same time.
Up until last night, they were all learning about this in their own home offices – discussing how all fire department budgets are stressed while demands for service continue to rise. One firefighter mentioned that what worked twenty years ago will soon no longer work today – “We’ve got nine fire chiefs and their departments in a county of 45,000 people. That’s inefficient.” Discussion leader and Depoe Bay Fire Department Board member Barbara Leff outed the “elephant in the room” by saying that if local departments don’t find a way to run more efficiently, the state is likely to come in and do it for them.
Most everyone agreed with that, but were not in complete agreement on exactly how to move forward with better coordination and cooperation between departments.
The proposed Central Coast Fire Authority would be jointly funded by participating departments which would jointly share their top administrators. The status of all firefighters and their duties would remain the same. But coordination of administration, training, fire marshall duties, fire inspections, equipment purchases and the like would be handled by chiefs and assistant chiefs as they devote their time between the four departments. The annual budget of $50,000 would be proportionately shared between them.
Central Coast Fire Chief Derek Clawson and Depoe Bay FireJoshua Williams, along with their firefighters, strongly supported moving forward with a formal contract between the four agencies. However, the other two were hesitant – troubled by questions about insurance liabilities as well as suggestions that the Newport Fire Department’s effectiveness may be diluted with so much “cooperating” going on.
In a lengthy critique, Newport firefighters complained that after a long period of turmoil, a new administration ushered in by recently hired Fire Chief Phil Paige, has raised the bar and the morale of department personnel and they want to hold on to it. On a unanimous vote, Newport firefighters claimed that enhanced mutual aid agreements between departments, continued deployment of the recently created county-wide rope rescue team, sharing fire investigation teams and a training officers association could tide everything over while department chiefs determine how inter-agency coordination can be best organized. Newport firefighters were quick to point out that they are not opposed to working closely with their surrounding fire districts. They want enough time to work it all out to everyone’s benefit.
Discussion leader Barbara Leff said there is no rush but agreed with Chief Paige that it might be possible to move forward if everyone gets their questions answered properly, quickly and to everyone’s satisfaction. If that could happen, she said, the new Central Coast Fire Authority could become official July 1st. But toward the end of the discussion, it appeared that the July 1st goal might be too ambitious. There were still too many unanswered questions circling the room.
So Leff suggested that everyone write down their questions and meet with their respective boards to get them answered and then move the Fire Authority forward. Chiefs from Seal Rock Fire and North Lincoln County Fire/Rescue (Lincoln City) were also on hand to monitor the discussions. Both said the idea of a Central Coast Fire Authority sounds intriguing and that they want to see if their own departments might benefit from joining.