SHFAD calls down from ’11

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District responded to fewer medical calls, 2,085, in 2012 than it did in record-setting 2011 when it totaled 2,200.

The district responded to 282 fire calls in 2012, up from 200 in 2011.

In total, the district responded to a combined total of 2,367 calls, its third-busiest year.

In 2006 SHFAD responded to a total of 2,391 calls, including 2,001 medical calls and 390 fire calls, its record for fire calls.

District personnel responded to a total of 2,400 calls in 2011, its biggest year overall and, at 2,200, its biggest year for medical calls.

Things slowed down at the end of 2012, said Fire Chief Mike Beaver. “We were on pace for about 100 more calls than that.”

The rate of calls dropped off around Dec. 10, he said. He thought the district could have hit 2,450 easily at the rate it had been going.

In 2013, the district is planning to maintain service levels, Beaver said. “With funding the way it is, I’ll be pretty pleased to maintain current levels of staffing and remain status quo.”

Like other public agencies whose employees are part of the Public Employees Retirement System, the district faces increasing PERS rates this year.

That’s Beaver’s main concern going into the next budget cycle, he said.

Fire equipment is in good shape, he said. In that area the district is as good or better than anyone else in the valley. The apparatus purchased with funds from a 2006 bond should be good for 30 years.

The district is behind on its ambulance replacement schedule, Beaver said. The district tries to replace them every two or three years depending on call volume and mileage. It purchased its last new ambulance in 2008.

SHFAD has been spending extra cash for the past three years on on narrowband radio equipment, Beaver said. The district started using the narrowband equipment on Jan. 1 as required by the federal government, and now it can focus on replacing an ambulance.

The narrowband “is just not as good as wideband,” Beaver said. “Talking to dispatch is not quite as good as it was before.”

The district is working on the problem, installing new equipment on Scott Mountain to help boost the signal, he said, but the concept is like taking a four-lane freeway down to two lanes, cramming more radio signals into the same available space.

Radio communication has limitations, especially in east Linn County, where hills and canyons affect the signal, Beaver said. However, that is not a new problem and, overall, there haven’t been any “glaring” issues.

“We had some dead spots with wideband too,” he said. “Right now we’re functioning fine.”

Digital radios are the next transition, he said. Those should come up around 2020.