Chances are a Seaside firefighter won’t be able to read this piece all the way through in one sitting. It’s likely they’ll be interrupted for a call for service.
The city saw 1,329 calls in 2016, an increase of 73 percent since 2008. Fifty-seven of those were fire calls. A two-alarm apartment fire on South Edgewood in July displaced at least 13 people and caused more than $110,000 loss. A July 18 blaze on Avenue F started in a vacant garage and rapidly spread to a neighboring home; total loss was close to $90,000.
Seaside Fire and Rescue, a participant in the county’s mutual aid agreement, provided aid to outside agencies for 14 incidents, including search and rescue, wild land and structural fire responses. The department conducted 233 fire and life-safety inspections for schools, churches and businesses. Search and rescue teams used technology and climbing skills to rescue injured or lost hikers on Saddle Mountain and Tillamook Head Trail. One of those rescues took more than nine hours. Seaside’s lifeguards responded to 4,778 incidents last year, among them, water rescues, assists and medical aid.
We non-firefighters, who have the leisure to read this column without interruption, have the obligation to provide our first responders with the equipment and personnel necessary to save lives. Local Option 4-186 goes before voters Tuesday, May 16, and in it come added firefighting enhancements for property owners, safety measures for firefighters and insurance cost savings for the city and taxpayers.
The Seaside Fire Department is asking voters to approve continuation of a levy to replace the 2013 fire levy, which expires at the end of June 2018. The ballot measure asks for $2.018 million over five years for fire equipment and personnel, to be split three ways: for self-contained breathing apparatus; a new ladder truck; and funding for the department’s training and safety officer.
The new 100-foot ladder truck, at $1.2 million, makes up the largest part of the levy. Seaside Fire and Rescue’s 20-year-old 75-foot ladder fails to reach some of the larger hotels in town, including WorldMark and the condos at Sand and Sea.
“We can’t reach the top,” Fire Chief Joey Daniels said. “We can reach the bottom of the top floor balcony, but that’s almost with the ladder straight up and down. That’s where it becomes challenging. You never run a ladder straight up and down — you want some angle to it so people can actually walk up it.”
The new truck will make climbing safer and enable firefighters to reach higher floors, Capt. Gordon Houston said. Steep or hard-to-access homes will become more accessible and provide an option to fight fires from overhead.
The ladder truck takes about 18 months to build, Daniels said, so the current truck will still be rolling for two or three years.
If the levy is successful, the fire department will choose a ladder truck from one of six different vendors, Houston said. Ladder trucks go for about $1.2 million, almost three times the cost for an engine.
After delivery, the 75-foot ladder truck would be sold because of ongoing maintenance and storage costs, Daniels said.
The training and safety position — filled by Div. Chief Dave Rankin — is probably the “biggest position on the department,” Daniels said in early May.
The city will need an affirmative vote on the levy to supply his personnel costs of $500,000 over five years, according to Daniels.
Among Rankin’s tasks are “the day to day operations,” Daniels said, including safety, EMS and lifeguard training.
Rankin is one of two division chiefs, along with Chris Dugan, the fire marshal, responsible for fire prevention and public education.
Rankin is considered invaluable to the department, handling recruits, interns, training and training records, Daniels said.
“The reason our insurance rating is so low is because of Dave and his training,” firefighter Katie Bulletset said in a late-April presentation. “He has probably made us one of the strongest fire departments on the North Coast.”
The levy’s third component are the masks, filters and cylinders that could make the difference between life and death.
“We can’t go into a fire without them,” Houston, a downtown truck company firefighter for Portland Fire Department, said.
The equipment is worn by rescue workers and firefighters to provide breathable air in hazardous interior environments. With a shelf life of 15 years, Seaside Fire and Rescue’s apparatus is “rapidly coming to the end of their shelf life,” Houston said.
If the levy is successful, the department would receive 24 air-packs and 32 masks.
Air-packs have an adjustable harness, making them more manageable for smaller firefighters, Bulletset said.
Firefighters said the levy would help keep the department’s insurance rating low. Ratings are based on water supply, the dispatch center, personnel and training, among other factors.
“As a volunteer agency, we have what you can get as the lowest insurance rating for volunteer organizations,” Houston said. “There are a lot of paid organizations that have full staff departments that have to pay more insurance than we do.”
Training of firefighters, officers and the condition of the department’s apparatus are what keep insurance rates low, he said.
“We have such a good fire department, we’re just one notch below the city of Portland, a huge city with a paid full-time staff,” Houston said.
Seaside, a small city that becomes a much bigger one in the summer, needs the protection of its firefighters. This measure will result in a rate of $0.34 cents per thousand of assessed value in the first year.
Imagine if only one life could be saved at such a cost.
Vote yes this week.