The Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District is focused on saving money for future upgrades in next fiscal year’s proposed budget.
Along with a new fire engine, nozzles and other apparatus, the fire district may add a recruitment officer to improve volunteer retention and add more paid, part-time firefighter positions.
This is Fire Chief Matt Benedict’s first budget cycle to oversee, and he said his goal is to help “standardize and streamline” the budgeting process for the district to clarify why each item is needed to the public.
“We’re setting this budget up for the future,” Benedict said. “We are saving money for when our apparatus need to be replaced to be fiscally responsible.”
Recruiting and keeping qualified volunteer firefighters is a task that is becoming increasingly more challenging not only for Cannon Beach, but for volunteer departments around the country, Benedict said. According to the National Fire Protection Association, the number of volunteers decreased 12 percent from 1985 to 2015.
To help with retention, Benedict is proposing to add $39,000 to the budget for more part-time firefighter positions. It would be structured so that existing volunteers could sign up for two, 10-hour paid shifts a week at $15 an hour. Seaside Fire Department already has a similar program.
Right now the fire district has 18 volunteers, which Benedict said is adequate for now. Ideally, he hopes to recruit to reach a total between 25 and 30.
“Volunteers who signed up for shifts would get more experience working beside me and others to know how to run a fire station. They need to know how it runs in case something happens to me,” Benedict said. “It’ll give them more confidence, more one-on-one attention — I see it as a win-win.”
Benedict said he also hopes the extra cash will help ease the financial burdens of his volunteers.
“Anything I can do to help my volunteers be more financially stable,” Benedict said.
Benedict is also proposing to apply for a four-year, $728,150 grant to fund a new recruitment officer. The funds would help pay the officer’s salary, as well as training and outreach materials to develop a long-term strategy to find and keep volunteers.
Lack of affordable housing and the high cost of living are two main reasons Benedict identified as major issues contributing to recruitment struggles.
“It’s definitely a trickle-down effect,” he said.
About $85,000 is proposed to be transferred into a reserve fund for the eventual replacement of a 1995 fire engine set to expire in the next few years, and will eventually cost around $400,000. Fire nozzles and self contained breathing apparatus equipment will need to be replaced before expiring in 2019, and the district intends to secure a grant to foot a bill that could push $500,000.
The National Fire Protection Association stipulates that engines need to be cycled every 20 years to keep insurance rates low for the city.
For this fiscal year, the district is also hoping to secure grants to hopefully replace the fire engine at Arch Cape and 35 radios for all personnel, Cannon Beach Fire Division Chief Marc Reckmann said, though exact estimates haven’t been exacted yet.
“All of our radios we have are obsolete. It’s getting to the point where it’s hard to find replacement parts for them,” Reckmann said.
Law enforcement and the fire team have had longstanding issues with radio communications in southern Clatsop County, Reckmann said. This is mostly due to hilly geography, outdated technology and too few repeaters in the area that help convey signals to dispatch in Seaside, he said.
Cannon Beach Police Department has also proposed about $8,000 in the city budget to fund new radios and a new repeater. Benedict said the two departments are starting conversations about coordinating the efforts.
“These radios are our lifeline to the outside world,” Benedict said. “There’s been close calls in certain remote areas, and we need to be able to get out if a situation turns upside down.”
As for Arch Cape’s engine, Reckmann said the current one is functional but is not as adequate as it should be to accommodate some of the off road needs of that community.
Grants are becoming more competitive, Reckmann said, which puts small communities like Cannon Beach behind the needs of larger metro areas when it comes to replacing infrastructure.
“I hope to get some other surrounding communities on board so we can apply for a regional grant — then I think we’ll have better chances,” Reckmann said.