Photo by Jolene Guzman
Falls City Fire Department will continue a mutual aid agreement with Southwest Polk Rural Fire Protection District, but will not have Southwest’s vehicles on hand.
As of Tuesday, January 2, 2018
FALLS CITY — Two trucks belonging to Southwest Polk Rural Fire Protection District were pulled from Falls City Fire’s station Tuesday morning, changing the city's firefighters' ability to respond to rural areas around Falls City.
Falls City Fire Chief Bob Young said Falls City Fire can respond in its two remaining trucks, but fears they may get stuck on the narrow gravel roads surrounding Falls City. He said they weren’t designed to respond in rural areas.
“If we get stuck, no one can respond,” he said.
Young said that while the Southwest trucks still are available for response from Southwest stations in Dallas or Rickreall, the response could be delayed depending the location of a fire incident in the district.
“We are concerned for the people that live close to Falls City that we have served for so many years,” Young said. “The guys feel bad about that. People have to understand that they need to go to the Southwest board and let them know how they feel about it.”
Young said Tuesday that the department is losing its physician adviser as of Jan. 21, which means the services that EMTs can provide will be restricted if they don’t find a replacement.
“Technically all we can do now is first aid,” he said. “We are hoping that we can get another one. I think we probably can.”
Addressing reports in a story published by KATU News on Friday about four of his firefighters being under investigation on accusations outside of their volunteer duties with the department, Young said none of the volunteers has been charged.
He said the department’s investigation of the incident found that the accusations couldn’t be proven. The case was handed off to the Polk County Sheriff’s Department, who has now given the case the Polk County District Attorney’s Office.
If charges are filed, they will be suspended until the case concludes, Young said.
Two of the four firefighters in question were asked to leave the department on separate issues, he added.
“I want people to know that the volunteers that we send out are certified and safe to be their homes,” Young said. “We wouldn’t send people out if they weren’t.”
Young said he’s had to weed out volunteers in the past who haven’t met standards to serve with his department.
“There have been issues that we’ve had that I’ve had to deal with, but I do want people to know that we’ve dealt with them,” he said. “We haven’t just swept them under the rug.”
Young said the removal of the equipment Tuesday boils down to a failure to continue a contract between Falls City and Southwest due to differing management philosophies and the financial realities Falls City faces.
He said in the past, Falls City received payments from Southwest to help defray the cost of helping fight fires.
Last year that amounted to $24,000.
The proposed contract changed that relationship.
“What we were given was a $36,000 bill for training and administrative services,” Young said. “My math, anyway you do that, it’s a $60,000 turnaround. My budget is $60,000. There’s no way I could do that if I wanted to agree to something like that.”
The next Southwest Polk Rural Fire Protection District Board meeting is on Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the Dallas Fire Station, 915 SE Shelton St.
For more on this story see the Jan. 10 issue of the I-O.