With his fire department troops solidly not behind him, Newport Fire Chief Phil Paige lost his bid Monday night to usher in a new era of inter-departmental cooperation between a number of central coast fire departments. Although Paige had been working for over a year with other fire chiefs in the county to lower the cost of training, equipment purchases and volunteer recruitment, his inability to convince his own troops that these goals would be good for Newport taxpayers cost him the program. The city council sided with the firefighters and turned down what was called a Central Coast Fire Implementation Plan that would have combined chiefs and other paid staff to provide more centralized fire service coordination between Depoe Bay, Newport, Newport Rural and Central Coast Fire Rescue agencies.
Central to their opposition, Newport firefighters claimed that heightened cooperation and shared administrative staffs with the smaller surrounding fire departments would come at the expense of service levels within Newport. Firefighter Chris Rampley told the council that surrounding departments are obviously in favor of the new alliance because they’ll get more shared manpower and equipment from Newport. But, he said, that will dilute the quality of fire protection for Newport residents – especially in times of multiple emergencies happening at the same time.
But on the flip side, Chief Paige said it’s hard to envision the benefits of a more coordinated and integrated set of fire services because all the departments are so small. He was quick to point out, that over time the departments, and the residents they serve, will enjoy higher overall levels of service for less money or at slower rates of increase costs. Also joint equipment buys, more efficient training, specialty response teams, all will create better and more cost effective fire services for those living in Depoe Bay, Lincoln Beach, Newport Rural, Newport and Central Coast (Waldport) Fire Rescue areas. Chief Paige added that if central coast fire departments want to someday provide blanket ambulance service for the whole county (which is quite lucrative) a coordinated set of agencies with integrated management protocols would be in a better position to qualify for that.
The council praised Chief Paige for his hard work over the last year and a half to begin to take county-wide fire services to the next level. But the council agreed that the timing isn’t right. That the position of the firefighters seemed reasonable, suggesting that while such cooperative efforts will catch on in the future, trying to do it now seems premature.
On a unanimous vote of the council, the plan was turned down – for now.
A visibly disappointed Chief Paige said however, due to the comprehensive assessments of each Lincoln County fire agency over the past year and a half, everyone learned a lot about everyone else’s fire department – strengths, weaknesses, goals and their unique ways of doing things. Chief Paige said such specific information is very valuable and will be useful in the future when the issue of inter-cooperative agreements will undoubtedly come up again as budgets get squeezed, costs continue to rise and and fire agencies get stretched. “But we’re done for now,” he said.