CANNON BEACH — Despite the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 was the Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District’s busiest year on record.
Calls for fire service fell countywide while people avoided traveling during the early months of the pandemic. The calls picked back up over the summer, and fire chiefs said they have not slowed down since.
Although fire departments in Warrenton and Astoria caught up to their regular yearly call volumes, they still fell short from the previous year. The Seaside Fire Department only saw six fewer calls in 2020 compared to 2019. Cannon Beach ended up 40 calls ahead of 2019.
“I think what’s going on with Cannon Beach is nobody’s traveling, nobody’s flying, so where do they go? They come to the beach,” Fire Chief Marc Reckmann said. “And we saw that this summer and fall.
“After Labor Day, typically our calls just fall off and they didn’t. November, we had the third-busiest month we’ve ever had in the district. September was the busiest month we’ve ever had.”
Call volume has doubled in the past 10 years and volunteer firefighters have become harder to recruit, making it necessary to hire personnel. The stress on fire chiefs in Cannon Beach has resulted in turnover.
About 5% of the fire district’s calls for service are for fires. Most are for rescues and emergency medical calls. Seventy-seven percent of the calls involved people who do not live or pay taxes into the fire district.
Reckmann said despite the progress in the past year, operations are still unsustainable at the current rate of funding.
Voters approved a five-year levy last May for 35 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value to help sustain operations by hiring a second commanding officer and replacing equipment.
The levy allowed the fire district to hire a division chief in January. Reckmann said Jason Smith, of Monterey, California, has already hit the ground running.
“I think he’ll take us so far — just brings a ton of experience with him,” Reckmann said. “But that is just the tip of the iceberg.
“This is a huge stride, but this isn’t the end. This isn’t the fix. This is the first step. There’s just a ton of needs.”
The fire district still has the lowest tax rate on the North Coast. Reckmann said one of the district’s needs is a fire marshal. He said inspections need to be done, but have been put on hold because no one has time to do them.
He asked the city in December to levy a 5% prepared food tax to help fund the fire district — an idea he has pitched several times in the past.
“This is no longer a, ‘Hey, what do you think about this,” Reckmann said. “This is, ‘We need to do it. I need your help. And here’s why.’”
Mayor Sam Steidel said the conversation is important, but response to the pandemic has dominated the city’s time.
The mayor said the biggest issue is that the restaurant industry would likely push back because it would be on them primarily to manage, handle and transfer the funds.
“They’re so strapped right now that I wouldn’t dare broach the subject,” Steidel said. “That’s kind of where we’re at.”