News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Voters to decide on fire district bond

Voters in the Cloverdale Fire District will decide in the May 18 election whether to approve a five-year local option levy to fund enhanced emergency medical and fire response. The Cloverdale District lies in the rural lands east of Sisters.

The Cloverdale Fire District voted unanimously in February to place the levy (Measure 9-142) on the ballot. The levy carries a tax rate of $1.35 per $1,000 of assessed property value (not market value) for a period of five years. For every $100,000 of assessed property value, the cost would be $135.

According to the District, funds from the levy would be used to ensure two paid firefighter-medics to staff the main station 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At least one of the two on duty would have paramedic advanced life support training. Currently, the District has two staff members — the fire chief and training officer — who provide response from the station while on-duty. The District also relies on volunteers to respond to calls.

Local option funds would also allow the District to locate an advanced life support ambulance within the Cloverdale District. Ambulance service for District residents is currently provided by Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District; this arrangement will continue even with passage of the levy.

Critics and opponents of the levy argue that it is too expensive, threatens the district’s independence, and is not justified by need.

Timeliness and the availability of response are key issues the levy was crafted to address. The Cloverdale Fire District averages one call per day.

“The average response for us is to have two volunteers respond,” Cloverdale Fire Chief Thad Olsen told The Nugget. “Some only respond to fires because we only have five volunteers who are EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) and above, and of those, two respond regularly.”

The need for volunteers to respond to the station before deploying on an incident puts response times to incidents at 8-12 minutes, according to District data — a metric the District seeks to improve.

“Absolutely number-one for us is reducing response times,” Chief Olsen said. “The vast majority of calls, time is of the essence. This addresses that.

“We’re not trying to discredit the volunteer response,” the chief noted. “The volunteer response is what it is… they respond when they can. Sunday at 10 a.m., we may have 20 people available. Tuesday at 10 a.m., we might have one person available.”

Levy funds would be used to staff the main Cloverdale station on the corner of Highway 20 and Cloverdale Road 24/7, with at least two firefighter/medics. That, the District asserts, would make two-person immediate response available at all times, supplemented by volunteers.

The Nugget asked if stationing an ambulance in the Cloverdale Fire District could potentially reduce service levels in the Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District.

“No, we don’t believe it will,” Sisters Chief Roger Johnson said. “We would have four personnel between the two agencies available 24 hours, 365 days.”

Currently, three personnel are always available, Johnson noted.

“Overall, for both communities, there will be more staffing than there is now.”

Although call volumes have more than doubled over the past decade — and fire officials anticipate that that trend will continue to grow — an average of one call per day is still not heavy volume. What will trained and highly-qualified full-time staff do in the non-call time?

“You always have training; you always have maintenance; you have continuing education,” Chief Olsen said. “There’s always something to do. There is no downtime. There’s thousands of hours of training to be done.”

He noted that firefighters and paramedics have literally hundreds of certifications requiring hours of education and training to pursue – and the chiefs hope that enhanced volunteer training and engagement will flow from the continual presence.

Olsen said no one will go into a fire station in 2021 and see firefighters sitting in recliners watching TV and waiting for a call.

Asked if the District had sought out a more economical solution to the response time issue, Chief Olsen said that they had looked into hiring one additional person — but the levy cost to support that would have been just 20 cents less than what the current levy proposes.

The proposed levy would significantly restructure how the Cloverdale Fire District operates.

While the District’s board of directors would maintain its independence and control of finances, operations would come under the supervision of Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District. Chief Olsen would be demoted to Battalion Chief, a position Chief Johnson described as analogous to a shift captain in the Sisters district.

The levy is intended to fund parity between personnel in each district — though Johnson notes that decisions on pay scale are ultimately in the hands of the Cloverdale District board.

“They’re going to be working side-by-side on the same vehicle, responding to the same emergency incidents,” Chief Johnson said. “(They) should be compensated the same.”

Administrative duties will be assumed by the Sisters District, with some $77,000 of levy funds designated per year for that purpose. Sisters will develop and compile the budget, oversee operations, provide fire marshal and public information services and cover other administrative duties.

The Cloverdale Fire District currently has the lowest tax rate in the Central Oregon region at $1.50 per $1,000 assessed value. With the levy, that would rise to $2.85 per $1,000, just under Sisters-Camp Sherman’s rate of $2.92 per $1,000.

It is not clear whether additional costs might be offset by improved insurance rates. Having a station manned 24/7 is expected to improve the district’s ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating which is currently a 6 (Sisters is a 3; the lower number being better). Better ratings may or may not translate directly into lower premiums. Olsen told that his personal homeowners insurance indicated that he would save $280 a year based on proximity to a manned station.

Ballots were to be mailed to registered voters starting April 28.

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

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Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit


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