RICKREALL — Southwestern Polk Fire District hired its first full-time employees to work out of the Rickreall Station and to provide 12-hour-per-day coverage at times when volunteer numbers are the lowest.
The new employees, two teams of a firefighter/paramedic and firefighter/emergency medical technician, will work from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Don’t be surprised if you see trucks from Sheridan and West Valley fire districts parked in front of the Rickreall station. It’s all part of the agreements between Southwest Polk, Sheridan and West Valley that allows the district to pool money, and to deploy employees and equipment where it’s needed the most.
“We hired the new admin team that is global across all three agencies. We got that team on board over the last month-ish,” said Fred Hertel, the chief of all three agencies.
The new administrative team includes Hertel; two deputy chiefs, Damon Schulze and Les Thomas; and three battalion chiefs RC Mock, Sean Hoxie and Jason Crowe.
“Then we hired new staff through our partnership with the three agencies to staff this station 12 hours a day,” Hertel said.
The new firefighters are Zach Leigh, Jakob Sessa, Daniel Cummins, and Michaela Woods.
Hertel said the partnership gives the districts an opportunity to use paid staff and volunteers efficiently during a time when volunteer numbers are diminishing.
“It’s tough to find volunteers. By the time they realize that it takes 120 hours of training and all of the regulations they have to go through, most of those don’t make it through to actually being a volunteer,” Hertel said. “Any more, it’s about 10 applications before we get one that we can put on a truck.”
Agreements among the agencies also allows for a reserve ambulance out of Sheridan to be stationed at Rickreall. It’ll be used when Dallas and Polk No. 1 are on calls.
“Between Dallas and Polk No. 1, we run out of ambulances. So, they’ve always had to rely on Salem to get a medic out here or go all the way to Sheridan to get it,” Hertel said. “We had a reserve one sitting in Sheridan, so we moved it here. Now we are five minutes away from Dallas or Polk No. 1 instead of being 20 minutes away.”
Hertel said it’s been a busy summer with sorting out the assets of the three districts and where to best use them.
“Damon comes in, and within a month, he’s in charge of all the operations of three districts and 535-square miles,” Hertel said. “He’s got to figure out what resources he has, and he’s got to figure out how to deploy them for the best service to our citizens.”
Schulze, who was a battalion chief in McMinnville, said he’s getting close to the right configuration.
“Learning what I had was a big task. Getting it ironed out where we need it, that’s a whole other game,” Schulze said. “I think we are getting there. I’m feeling pretty good about some of this stuff. It’s starting to take shape.”
Hertel and his administrative team will have more stations to consider in the future. Southwest Polk has purchased land to build its new main station in Rickreall. The district rented a shop to house equipment and respond from Salt Creek — also a first for Southwest — until a new station can be built there. He said the district is looking at purchasing property to build a third station.
Hertel said employees and volunteers of the three agencies are getting used to idea of working on the same team. The districts have been mutual aid partners for decades, but this takes it a step further, he said. “It’s been a pretty exciting time,” Hertel said. “We’ve got great employees and great volunteers. They are all coming together to see this vision.”