INDEPENDENCE — Polk County Fire District No. 1 volunteers responded to more incidents with fewer volunteers in 2016.
“We had 2,253 home responses with 44 volunteers,” Chief Ben Stange said. In 2015, the home responses numbered 2,032 with 47 people. Stange said that while the district lost a few volunteers, the people who remained responded to more calls on average.
Stange presented an overview of 2016, as well as goals and challenges he saw coming in 2017, to the fire board at its Thursday meeting.
“We have a cultural shift,” he said. “We have new volunteer firefighters, new professionals; we have an opportunity to take a look and see if we are who we really want to be.”
Stange said that the district is in good shape halfway through its fiscal year, but that next year will bring challenges, especially in the cost of the district’s contributions to the Oregon Public Employee Retirement System.
“If there’s an 8 percent return for PERS, in the next six years, we can expect a $500,000 difference in what we’re paying now,” he said.
Stange told the board to consider renewing the levy soon. He said waiting until April 2019 to decide to renew the levy could put the district in a difficult position for the 2019-2020 budget if taxpayers said no.
The district has improved service through equipment purchased with the general obligation bond and levy, including installing some computers in vehicles that show where hydrants are located, allowing firefighters to see where to set up while en route to a structure fire.
Efforts to recruit volunteers at Station 40 in Buena Vista have been successful, Stange said. Volunteers at Station 40 have been a struggle for the district for years.
Recruiting will begin at Station 80, in Airlie.
A new shift captain and new volunteers and volunteer lieutenants will be sworn in during a ceremony at Central High School’s auditorium on Feb. 1 at 7 p.m.