Cannon Beach clarifies new policy on fire calls

The president of the Cannon Beach fire board has sought to clarify a new policy on outside calls.

The new mobilization policy adopted by the Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District is intended to limit the time the fire chief spends away from the district rather than individual volunteers, the fire board president said.

The clarification comes after the fire board decided in a 3-2 vote on Nov. 12 that personnel will only be able to be out on outside calls 15 days out of any 30-day period from June through October.

“I would like to clarify the policy was not intended to deny the chief or volunteers from doing any conflagration work except outside the borders of the state of Oregon,” Garry Smith, the board president, said. “And that could be overridden by specific circumstances if need arises. I support our district going out to help. The intent of the policy is to control the amount of time the fire chief, who is paid by the taxpayers, spends out of the district.”

Reshaping the mobilization policy was out of concern some fire board members had about the amount of time Fire Chief Matt Benedict spent helping fight fires around the state and California last summer — the season, some board members argue, where the fire district needs a fire chief most. Summer is typically when the fire district sees a higher emergency call volume and faces more fire danger.

The new policy also attempts to keep costs associated with the calls down by budgeting a certain amount for compensation for both salaried and volunteer employees sent out on fires. Compensation requests over the budget will be held until the fire district gets reimbursed from the state.

“Part of the reason for the in-state requirement was because we were waiting so long for checks to come from California fires,” Smith said.

The confusion derived from the wording of the new policy, which reads that the 15-day limit “will not apply to volunteers if there is adequate staffing to handle the district’s normal call volume for the anticipated deployment period.”

When asked by a fellow board member Monday about whether the in-state requirement just applied to the fire chief, Smith responded by saying, “This mobilization policy covers him, the equipment, personnel, volunteers and anything the district would provide.”

“In my mind, I was answering that as it pertained to the 15 days part of the policy,” Smith explained Wednesday.

He feels the way the new policy is written allows volunteers to go on conflagration calls without impediment from the fire board, as it is the fire chief who ultimately decides whether the district has enough resources to help with other fires.

Benedict, however, said his impression from Monday’s meeting was that the mobilization policy applies to the fire chief and the volunteers. Benedict hopes to meet with the fire board in the coming months to clarify the intent of the policy and how different sections affect the fire chief position and volunteers.

“What the expectation of the fire chief and volunteers is when we do get asked to go by the state of Oregon needs a little more clarification before we can proceed,” he said. “It’s just about working together to make sure when someone in the future reads this policy they know how it clearly works and there’s no ‘ifs,’ ‘ands’ or ‘buts.’”