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home : current news : current news April 29, 2016

4/16/2013 1:52:00 PM
Providing fire protection on a budget
By Jim Cornelius
News Editor

Keeping Sisters Country properties safe from fire requires skill, training and dedication. When it's done on a tight budget, it also requires creativity.

The Cloverdale Rural Fire Protection District, with two paid staff members and 19 volunteers, has the lowest tax rate of any district in Central Oregon, at $1.09 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The larger and more complex Sisters RFPD operates on $2.73 per $1,000.

That gives the department about $330,000 per year in budget. The Cloverdale RFPD board of directors has held the line on that tax rate and budget, not wanting to increase the burden on local residents during tough economic times. That means that the board and Fire Chief Thad Olsen have to find extremely cost-efficient ways to deliver fire protection and keep 19 volunteer firefighters and medics safe as they respond to calls.

"The board has chosen not to go to the voters to ask them (for more)," Olsen said. "We try to live within our means. To do that, we have to be creative."

An example of creativity is found in the way the fire district obtained pumpers to replace aging units that Olsen noted "were very unreliable and unsafe."

There was no way to purchase two new engines at a price tag of $350,000. But the district searched out a pair owned by Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue.

"They had two engines that were slightly older, but they had excellent maintenance records on them," Olsen said. "We were able to purchase those two trucks for $10,000 total."

The trucks have served the district well, but they are now showing their age and use.

"They're still serviceable," Olsen reported. "Maintenance issues are starting to come up. We're looking at options to replace them, but funding is an issue for us."

There have been other bargain purchases of quality equipment to improve performance and safety without breaking the bank.

Two new quick-response vehicles/brush trucks went into service during the summer of 2012. The new trucks are built on 2012 Ford F550 extended-cab four-wheel-drive chassis with a gross weight rating of 19,550 pounds. The trucks are designed to handle a variety of emergency calls, from motor vehicle wrecks to brush fires to medical emergencies.

The district is also looking to shift its presence to the south end of the district, where 70 percent of calls originate. The problem is that there is only a small garage at Station #2 at the Cloverdale Road/Highway 20 intersection.

Building a new station there would cost $1.5 million -out of the question for the district.

The district decided to build a separate building to house offices and sleeping quarters (which will allow the district to attract much-needed students and out-of-district volunteers). Olsen got in touch with the Treasure Valley Community College Building Technologies department and the district is crafting an intergovernmental agreement that will get the building up for the cost of materials - and the educational value for the college.

"Hopefully by the end of the summer we'll be in a new building," Olsen said.

The cost will be a fraction of the price of a new station, and improve response time to that end of the district.

Part of the cost of fire protection is the price paid by homeowners for fire insurance - a price determined by ISO rating. Cloverdale has trained hard to attain the lowest rating possible.

The Insurance Services Office is the entity that rates fire departments throughout the U.S. On a scale of 10, with 1 being the best rating, Cloverdale received a 6 for all homes in the fire district and a 3 for homes within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant, which includes all of Aspen Lakes, a portion of Panoramic View Estates, and the homes near the end of Ponderosa Cascade.

According to district officials, these ratings are almost unheard of in a rural fire district and are among the lowest in Central Oregon.

The combination of low tax rates and a good insurance rating means that residents of the Cloverdale district are getting a lot of value out of their fire department.

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