SHERIDAN — The city of Sheridan slowed a fire district consolidation proposal when its city council took no action to approve the petition currently being circulated.
Fire Chief Fred Hertel said in a press release this provides a roadblock in the current Sheridan/SW Polk Fire District consolidation efforts.
“This non-action will stop the petition from moving forward to the county commissioners level,” Hertel said. “The City of Sheridan, City Council, did not give permission for the prospective petition to proceed to the voters.”
Sheridan Mayor Harry Cooley said the council took no action, with each councilor expressing their concerns, including increasing taxes, a rushed process with not enough citizen involvement, and a proposed increased staffing would be at the Salt Creek station and not the Sheridan station.
“In general, they didn’t see a benefit to taxpayers in Sheridan by the proposal,” Cooley said. “So, no motion was made and no action was taken. Basically, it died for lack of motion.”
Hertel first brought the consolidation proposal to the city council at its April 5 meeting. Cooley said the council made no comments at the time, but did express the need for a public hearing on the proposal before they could move forward. A public hearing was on the April 19 agenda, but the council took no further action after expressing their concerns.
Hertel said he and the fire district boards all recognized that this attempted consolidation had a compressed timeline, as an ballot measure would need to be approved in May for it to go before voters in November. But they felt the efforts would be achievable.
“With the compressed timeline we were not able to educate, inform and/ or build consensus within our communities,” Hertel said. “The COVID pandemic and last summer’s large wildland fire season also limited our abilities to work with our communities.”
The council also cited the proposed increased staffing in the Salt Creek Community Fire Station would not help the citizens of Sheridan. Cooley agreed the council is not satisfied with Sheridan’s current level of service. But the proposal didn’t address Sheridan’s service that much, he said, as it only increases Salt Creek station by two full-time positions, bringing it from 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, up to 24 hour a day 7 days a week.
“But Salt Creek is quite a distance from Sheridan, about 10-15 minutes longer, to bring a vehicle from Salt Creek to downtown Sheridan,” Cooley said.
However, Hertel pointed to a Sheridan house fire on April 20, where citizens had to wait for service from Grand Ronde, McMinnville, Amity and Dallas.
Hertel said the Sheridan Fire District responded to the fire in Sheridan. Career staff were on a previously dispatched medical call, leaving only one volunteer to respond on the first engine out of Sheridan. The West Valley engine and truck were the next to arrive with the required personnel. Hertel said they did not meet the OSHA “two-in and two-out” requirement to enter a burning building for 18 minutes.
“Unlike the last house fire, which had two fatalities, luckily this time no one was in the house,” Hertel said. “Amity and McMinnville also came to assist, and the McMinnville ambulance transported the victim with smoke inhalation because Sheridan did not have an ambulance available. During the same time frame as this fire incident, our SW Polk crew and a Dallas Fire & EMS crew handled two additional medical emergencies within Sheridan Fire District.”
Hertel said since the council meeting, he has been asked my many about the next steps.
“That is a very good question. It is a fact that our three districts cannot continue being consistently in ‘service overload,’ The Districts constant increasing demand for service continues to result in a declining level of service. Extended response times requiring fire and emergency medical incident victims to wait for service. This is becoming more of the norm than the exception,” he said.
Cooley agreed a solution to Sheridan’s fire service will have to be solved sooner or later.
“Somewhere in the future this kind of thing will probably have to transpire for these districts to function and provide services,” Cooley said. “To continue on, because of financial problems, a consolidation will have to happen. But it will take more discussion, back and forth, for that to happen.”
Hertel promised the districts will keep its constituents informed as the boards of the existing districts define the next steps.