Fire board pondering district needs

Sean C. Morgan

Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District needs new apparatus, firefighting, rescue and radio equipment, a new building and maintenance on some of its other structures, its board learned last week.

Battalion Chief Shannon Pettner provided a detailed list of needs that she hopes to address through a bond levy to the SHFAD Board of Directors during its regular meeting on Jan. 19.

The board is considering a proposal by Fire Chief Dave Barringer to seek voter approval for a new bond levy that would replace the current bond levy, approved in 2006, at about the same rate, 37 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

Bond levies are property taxes used to pay debt in the form of general obligation bonds. General obligation bonds may be used to pay for equipment and capital improvements but not for personnel or operations. Bond levies are outside the $10-per-$1,000 limit on property taxes.

Barringer has discussed the concept with the board over the past year, and last month, trustees spent time discussing whether to move forward with a bond levy. They asked for more detailed information about how the district would use bond money.

“As a department, we feel that these needs are urgent, and we are aware that there are not sufficient funds in the budget to address them,” Pettner told the board. “It is our opinion as a group that the best course of action to meet these needs would be to go to the voters and ask them to approve a general obligation bond.”

District officers have met and compiled a list of priorities in three categories, apparatus, equipment and facilities, Pettner said. In each category, they identified their top five priorities.

In the meantime, the district has secured funding for a couple of the items on the list, including a new roof over the office portion of the Fire Hall. Half of the cost, about $9,000, will be covered by a grant from the Special Districts Association of Oregon. The district will pay for the remainder from conflagration funds, payment from the state for responding to wildland fires. The board approved the expenditure 5-0 during the meeting.

The district also purchased needed lights and batteries with conflagration funds, Pettner said, and the district is seeking a grant from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency to replace air-packs and masks that are reaching the end of a 15-year cycle.

Among options, the board discussed a $1.5 million bond over seven years, yielding a tax rate of less than 37 cents per $1,000.

Estimates for each item in the list is rough, Pettner said. Right now, it’s difficult to estimate precise costs.

She outlined the following needs:

Apparatus

– The district needs to replace Rescue 21, a 2001 KMW engine purchased used in 2004. It is used as a heavy rescue vehicle. It has an onboard hydraulic pump pre-plumbed for obsolete Phoenix extrication tools. One of two pumps does not work, and one of the hydraulic lines has a major failure.

Rescue 25, a specialty rope-rescue vehicle is a 1993 Ford crew cab pickup with a service box. It is carrying too much weight for its brakes, potentially causing problems in the pass and in steep terrain. The vehicle’s alternator cannot keep up with the draw on the battery for its electrical system to function, resulting in the vehicle dying on scene if the lights are left on.

The officers propose selling Rescue 21 and using Rescue 25 as a combination vehicle for rehab and fire investigation. It would not respond to calls that require lights.

With bond funds, the district would purchase a single rescue vehicle that meets all of the district’s rescue needs. If the district cannot purchase a single vehicle, it would purchase two suited to their respective areas of rescue.

Top priorities in replacements include a 500-gallon water tank, four-wheel drive capability and enough compartment space for rescue tools and equipment.

A rough estimate for the replacement is $350,000.

– Tender 21 is a 1981 Ford with 335 horsepower carryng 2,000 gallons of water with a 1,000 gallon-per-minute Hale pump. The pump is certified this year, but it is leaking and will need replacement.

The life expectancy of fire apparatus is 25 years. The vehicle is nearly 35 yaers old. The cost to maintain it is exorbitant.

The district would sell or donate Tender 21 and purchase a newer pumper tender with more horsepower and a capacity of up to 3,000 gallons, allowing the district to get water to rural fires more quickly, safely and efficiently. No estimated cost was listed for the tender.

– Brush 21 was a temporary replacement vehicle for the old red Dodge pickup used by battalion chiefs. The 2001 Ford diesel pickup is a good brush rig, but it is not suited to be the most frequently used vehicle used by the district. The battalion chiefs respond on nearly every call, medical and fire, and it requires versatility, with a variety of equipment, a water tank and a pump.

Brush 21 would move to Cascadia and be replaced by a new heavy-duty vehicle that could carry up to four personnel and the necessary equipment.

The district estimates replacement at $110,000.

– The bond would include enough funding to immediately replace an ambulance and, later in the life of the bond, a second replacement ambulance.

Immediately, Medic 4, a four-wheel drive 1996 Chevrolet with a small 1987 box, would be converted into a dive rescue vehicle.

Later, Medic 2, a 2008 Braun box on a Chevrolet chassis, with 161,594 miles on it, would be sold. The unit has had problems with the suspension since it was new. The box could be remounted on a new chassis.

The first ambulance would cost some $180,000. Assuming inflation, the second one may cost $190,000.

Equipment

– While the district is seeking grant funds to pay for them, it needs to replace its self-contained breathing apparatus, purchased in three waves, in 2004, 2007 and 2008. All of the packs were manufactured in 2002, and they are supposed to be replaced 15 years after the manufacture date.

New airpacks have updated communication and location tracking, which would improve the safety of responding firefighters.

The packs should be replaced at the same time to be consistent and reduce confusion during emergency responses.

– The district has three sets of extrication tools, and they are all outdated and slower than newer equipment. With some newer vehicles, they are ineffective at cutting, due to changing technology in the automobile industry. The tools also are different brands and cannot be used interchangeably.

The district would purchase new tools and mobile pumps with bond funds. They would be the latest technology, allowing rescues to be quicker and more efficient; and they would be interchangeable.

– The bond would fund a new repeater in the Quartzville area at a cost of $10,000 to $12,000 to improve communication throughout the fire district. Since converting to “narrow band” to meet federal mandates, radio communication has become more difficult, decreasing the ability of firefighters and medics to communicate with dispatchers when mountains, trees and structures come between the radios and the equipment the dispatch center uses.

The district also needs to replace portable radios that are becoming obsolete.

– The district’s two non-powered cots are aging and beginning to show a great deal of wear. The district would replace them with two “power cots” – the stretchers used to transport patients. The district already has two power cots.

The power cots take a lot of strain off of medics and responders and prevent back injuries. Due to limited staffing, the department often has fewer personnel than is ideal for larger patients.

Facilities

– Station 23, Crawfordsville, has an exposed screw metal roof with problems similar to the Fire Hall. The screws loosen over time, causing water leaks. The district would replace the roof with a composite roof.

It also would pave an area in front of the bay doors to eliminate potholes and getting gravel and mud in the bays.

– Station 22, Foster, has three pieces of apparatus and two bays. One piece of apparatus must be moved in and out through the same door as another, often with just one volunteer responding to the station, creating issues when backing in or out of the building.

The siding on the station is swelling and delaminating, and it needs replacement.

The bond would build a new bay and replace the siding, similar to the siding that paid and volunteer firefighters installed on Station 21, the Fire Hall.

– Station 21 needs living spaces remodeled to provide better privacy for paid and part-time staff. The building was constructed to accommodate two full-time paid staff per shift and a few resident volunteers.

The district now has three full-time paid staff per shift and 10 part-time employees, who all have the option of making the station their primary residence, although none currently live at the Fire Hall. The district also frequently hosts EMT and paramedic students who are completing training requirements.

The growth in personnel has created issues with bathroom facilities. Female staff members have had to use a public restroom for several years. The district recently closed one of its restrooms to the public for this purpose.

The proposed remodel would create small private rooms and three separate bathrooms for residents and medics on shift.

The plan includes a remodel for the kitchen, which is aging and constantly in need of repair. With an increasing number of personnel, the kitchen doesn’t provide enough cabinet space. The remodel would include a screen between the kitchen and the meeting area to allow working personnel on 24-hour shifts to use the kitchen without disrupting meetings.

– Station 21 has become overcrowded with apparatus, and it is working with the Volunteer Firefighters Association to develop plans for a new structure on the same property. The new building would house some of the association’s equipment and supplies, and it would also include two new bays, where the district could part apparatus, including Squad 21, also known as the water rescue vehicle, and the new boat, which are currently stored outside.

The bond would help pay for the new structure.

The Board of Directors will meet next at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 1 to discuss these needs, decide whether to pursue a bond and begin the process for placing a bond on the May ballot if it decides to move forward.

Present at the meeting on Jan. 19 were Larry Johnson remotely through Skype, Elmer Riemer, Don Hopkins, Tim Geil and President Dawn Mitchell.

The board also held the first reading of two proposed ordinances, one that would implement a process and fee structure for patients who are not transported but receive advances life-saving assistance and another that implements a fee structure to charge for services in emergency responses, such as crashes.

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