Fire!

<I>Contributed</I><BR>Firefighters would say this house is fully involved. The flames were part of a hands-on training session in January in Mt. Vernon.

The John Day Rural Fire Department's 1976 F-600 can make it up the hill between John Day Hardware and the police station - but just barely.

It takes 20 minutes to drive up Airport Road. On a recent training run, the water pump didn't work, so even if the engine makes it to a fire it may not be any help. Top speed is around 40 - that's an estimate, because the speedometer doesn't work.

For homeowners in the John Day Rural Fire District - which includes Grant Union High School - this is their engine.

Under a mutual-aid agreement, the City of John Day allows the city engine to respond to rural fires. All resources in the county are available to any fire under the agreement. Unfortunately, John Day's engine is much heavier and does not have four-wheel drive, so in some cases it can't get to rural fires.

All departments also belong to the The Grant County Fire Defense Board. The board was created in compliance with a state mandate, and meets at least twice a year.

The defense board is comprised of all the fire chiefs and assistant fire chiefs in the county. Representatives from the Oregon Department of Forests and the Forest Service also attend meetings, but are not voting members.

The cost of fire insurance is directly related to the quality of the fire department in each city.

Insurance companies evaluate each fire department, and give it an Insurance Service Office rating of 1 to 10, 1 being the best and 10 meaning there is no fire department.

ISO numbers have a significant affect on insurance premiums. In some cases, insurance companies will not provide fire insurance to homes with high ISO ratings.

The ISO numbers provided here are for within the city limits. This number is for the city in general. The ISO of individual residences may vary widely from the number provided here, based on distance from the firehouse and distance from the nearest fire hydrant. In most cases, people who live outside city limits have an ISO of either nine or 10.

John Day - ISO 4 The rural and city fire districts are considering combining to form one force that would share funds and equipment.

"The city applied for a grant to hire a consultant to assess the feasibility of combining the two departments, but was not awarded the money," city manager Peggy Carey said.

Combining the two departments would seem to make sense, since they are already serviced by the same chief and volunteers out of the same fire station.

"In the end it would be good for the district, and save money," Fire Chief Ted Johnson said.

"The fire budget has been tight since the city's revenue from property taxes was restricted by Measure 50," Carey said.

During the past few years, the city has managed to almost double the fire budget, from $79,359 in 2003 to a proposed budget of $149,000 for 2006. The rural district contributes about $35,000 a year.

In 2005, the fire department received two grants totaling $99,153, which were used to buy various communication and protective gear. There are currently no grants for 2006.

The department's success rate on the 46 runs it made last year was "pretty bad," Johnson said, and he stressed the need for a new city employee that would maintain and drive the fire trucks. The department has responded to about 20 fires this year, including mutual-aid calls, Johnson said. Two of the calls were for a shed and a camp-trailer that burned down.

The department has 15 volunteers, and Johnson estimates it needs at least 25.

"Both the rural and the city districts need new trucks," Johnson said.

New trucks cost around $215,000, and would not fit in the existing firehouse.

Prairie City - ISO 5 Since 1949, Prairie City rural and city districts have, for all practical purposes, been combined. The city provides the facilities, housing, training and all other expenses, while the rural community is responsible for the engines.

"The funding is good overall, and we have enough volunteers, although we can always use more," Fire Chief James Sullens said. The city contributes about $24,000 a year. The rural district raises about $13,000 a year.

Prairie City recently purchased a tender to be used primarily for brush fires, and is sharing the resource with other departments in the county.

In some areas of the county the radio system doesn't work, making it difficult to contact other districts if help is needed, Marge Walton of the Prairie Rural Fire District said. There is a need for a more powerful radio system and a more complete mapping of all the structures in the county, Walton said.

Prairie City purchased the old Texaco gas station on Front Street, and is planning to house some of the fire equipment there.

"At the present time, we have equipment stored in private garages in order to keep everything we own ready to use (and there is a) need for more space to house fire equipment," wrote Walton in a 2004 letter to the Texaco Property Development Committee.

Mt. Vernon - ISO 5Mt. Vernon Fire Department has an annual budget of about $25,000 and has 15 volunteers. The department gets around 15 calls a year, and has already had three structure fires and three wildland fires this year. Mt. Vernon has also responded to fires in Dayville, Monument and Fox.

The Mt. Vernon rural and city districts have worked well together, and are basically one department, Fire Chief Bill Cearns said. Cearns is also grateful for the assistance, money, and equipment given by District Forester Gordon Foster and the Oregon Department of Forestry.

"He's bent over backwards to help us," Cearns said. Several times the state has used its own resources, or even ordered federal resources, to respond to Mt. Vernon fires.

Mt. Vernon has also helped respond to state fires, and is often the first resource on the scene, since the nearest state engines are in John Day. Mt. Vernon has received around $50,000 in grant money from the state. Half of the department's equipment came from the state.

"We need our own four-wheel-drive tender to use on wildland/urban interface fires," and a new station, Cearns said. There are currently several vehicles stored outdoors.

Dayville - ISO 6Dayville has two fire trucks, both of which are well maintained. Most of the equipment is second- or even third-hand, but it is all in good shape. The department mainly responds to calls within city limits, but will go to other fires if there are enough people to man both trucks. The department always has at least one truck available to the city residents.

The Dayville Fire Department used a federal grant two years ago to buy equipment such as masks and breathable-air tanks. It has most of the equipment it needs, but many of the hoses are old, and need to be replaced. The annual budget for the fire department is about $6,000 a year.

The biggest issue in Dayville, according to Fire Chief Georgia Osbourn, is that she needs more volunteers. Dayville has about five people at most meetings, counting Osbourn. She noted that chiefs can be held personally liable for accidents during fires.

There has not been a structure fire in Dayville for 15 years.

Long Creek - ISO 7Long Creek Fire Department only responds to fires inside city limits, an area of about one square-mile.

"I am hoping we can work with the surrounding community to establish a rural fire department," Mayor Dale Martin said.

Fire Chief Phil Lynall is in the process of rebuilding the fire department, after the former chief and all volunteers resigned three months ago.

That rebuilding effort includes major repairs to the city's fire engines, which the City Council approved in May.

The department has a budget of $5,000, with additional money available for emergencies.

The eight new volunteers are attending weekly training with John Day Fire Chief Ted Johnson, and have completed six of the 25 sessions needed to be able to enter a burning structure.

The last structure fire in Long Creek was eight years ago.

Monument ISO - 7Monument has a city fire department, but does not service rural areas. Its budget is a few thousand dollars, and it has six active volunteers. Monument has had to buy all of its gear, even clothing and other personal protective equipment, second hand.

Fire Chief Roy Peterson has been getting much of the money for the fire department by writing grants. The department needs more volunteers, but new federal regulations on the amount of training that is required have discouraged many people who would otherwise be interested in volunteering, Peterson said.

"One advantage we have is that all the volunteers, except for me, live within a few hundred yards of the fire house, which allows them to react quickly to a call," Peterson said.

Canyon City - ISO 5The Canyon City Fire Department responds to around 25 calls a year, most of which are mutual-aid calls. It does not have a rural district.

The department receives around $140,000 a year from the city, and has supplemented its budget with grants.

"The city has been very supportive of the fire department," Assistant Fire Chief Caughlin said.

"I think were sitting in really good shape, firewise. We have a good response rate," said City Manager Tammy Bremmer.

"I think we have the highest trained department in the county," Caughlin said. Canyon City has four firefighter Type IIs, and Caughlin will be certified soon.

"The department's equipment is not new, but is maintained regularly, so it is in good shape," Caughlin said.

Canyon City has two fire engines, one of which it recently purchased, used, for $20,000.

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