SHFAD gets grant for wildfire programs

Scott Swanson

Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District has announced that it is implementing two new programs in the near future, one that aims to decrease wildfire risk in the community, and the other to bolster the district’s declining volunteer base.

The Community Wildfire Risk Reduction Program is the result of a $408,848 grant announced last week by the The Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office. SHFAD was the only fire district in Linn County to receive a competitive grant, though Linn County Juvenile Department, which also provides firefighting services to the community, received $101,114.

About 106 organizations were offered grant funding, totaling $18 million, OSFM announced last week. In total, 161 entities applied to fund 269 projects, totaling a requested $44.5 million, highlighting the need for these grants to support important work in communities across Oregon.

Projects receiving funding included community-wide wildfire defensible space programs, vegetation removal around buildings, community chipping programs, community education related to wildfire preparedness, equipment for vegetation removal and staff.

Projects were prioritized on:

— Impact in high wildfire-risk regions;

— Communities with high social vulnerability;

— Those in and around the built environment;

— Providing defensible space and community resiliency;

— Protecting people and communities; and

— Geographically diverse projects to ensure all areas of the state have the resources to improve community wildfire risk reduction and better prepare communities.

“This grant will allow communities to create proactive, local solutions to lessen the impacts of wildfire,” said Oregon State Fire Marshal Mariana Ruiz-Temple. “We know that wildfires can happen anywhere in Oregon. Investing in communities in all areas of our state will bring much-needed community risk reduction and resiliency projects and programs to life.”

The second program the district plans to implement is Fire Corps, geared toward bolstering SHFAD’s volunteer ranks to improve staffing levels and support current firefighters.

Community Wildfire Risk Reduction Program

SHFAD Battalion Chief Shannon Pettner said the CWRRP will be led by a program manager, whose position will be funded for three years by the grant funds. She said plans for the program will be fleshed out in coming weeks.

Chief Nick Tyler said he plans to address the plan at the next Fire Board meeting on May 16.

“The goal of the program is to identify and mitigate hazards in and around the community that make us susceptible to damages sustained as a result of wildfires,” Pettner said in a statement sent to The New Era. “Our community is at risk due to its location in what is known as the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). As we saw in the devastating wildfire season of 2020, communities such as ours which are situated near forested areas can be substantially impacted by fire. Our goal is to help landowners prepare their land to better limit fire spread.”

The CWRRP manager will work with the local Oregon Department of Forestry district, which also has an active fuels-reduction program in the area, “to make the most of available resources and to prevent duplication of efforts,” Pettner said.

“The program will have a heavy focus on public education and enabling landowners to create defensible space around their homes and other structures. It will also address fire department access and egress to ensure the safety of our firefighters and to allow our community members to evacuate safely if their property becomes threatened by fire.”

Pettner said a job description for the program manager will be finalized in coming weeks “so that we can fill the position as soon as possible.”

“Wildfire season is just around the corner and we are looking forward to kicking off this program in time to do some prevention before it gets here,” she said.

Fire Corps Program

Tyler has noted that SHFAD’s volunteer ranks have shrunk substantially while its call load has increased significantly.

Earlier this year he reported to the Fire Board that volunteer numbers for the district have dropped from 50 volunteers in 2002 to 30 at the end of last year, while call volume has increased by 100.48% over that period.

“The community’s involvement in fire district functions is vital to the services we provide,” Pettner said. “Over recent years, our volunteer numbers have decreased significantly for a multitude of reasons. While some of our volunteers have retired after 20, 30, and even 50 years of service, others have moved away, and still others decided that firefighting was not for them.”

She said the district needs volunteer firefighters, but it also could use volunteer support personnel.

“For many years we have had a support program in place, which provided critical services. Volunteerism in that program has, unfortunately, been experiencing its own decline recently. We hope to change that with the implementation of our new partnership with Fire Corps.”

Fire Corps, administered by the nonprofit National Volunteer Fire Council, is a national grassroots effort to help fire/EMS departments enhance their services by engaging with community members to assist with non-emergency tasks.

Utilizing community support helps departments increase their capacity and allows first responders to focus on operational duties, training, and emergencies.

Pettner said tasks with which local volunteers could assist SHFAD include conducting fire prevention and life safety education, installing smoke alarms, providing emotional support to community members or Fire District personnel, providing rehabilitation support to operational firefighters on emergency scenes and a myriad of other activities.

“These community volunteers can make a real difference,” she said. “Utilizing community support helps departments increase their capacity and allows first responders to focus on operational duties, training, and emergencies.

“The district is in need of community members who have a desire to serve. The message we want to send out to the community is ‘we have a place for you.’ Whether you want be a firefighter, help with firefighter rehabilitation on emergency scenes, or help at community events and assist in promoting the district, we have a place for you. Whatever your interests, whatever your physical abilities will allow you to do, we have a place for you.”

She said volunteers will need to meet qualifications – “good moral character, 18 years of age or older, and must not have been convicted of or pled no contest to a felony offense.”

Anyone interested in learning more should contact the SHFAD Recruitment/Retention Officer at (541)367-5882 EXT 219 or stop by Station 21 at 1099 Long Street, Sweet Home, Oregon.