Cascade Locks seeks to form fire district

By SUE RYAN

News staff writer

May 31, 2006

Cascade Locks City Council pursues its plans to form a fire district with its request going before the Hood River County Commissioners June 5.

They should officially set a public hearing in July for the proposed levy, which would be scheduled for the Nov. 2 general election.

“Before, small or rural towns could get by with volunteers,” said city manager Bob Willoughby, as to why Cascade Locks has not had a fire district before now.

The city is asking for $1 per $1,000 property value with the levy, with the boundaries of the fire district matching the city. Cascade Locks faces a shortfall of $52,002 this year to meet the needed budget.

Forming the fire district relates to the operation of services and is separate from the proposal to build a new fire hall. The city is proposing paying for that by selling the city-owned property and grants.

The city bought a one-acre site for the future fire hall from the county for $96,000 three months ago. It is east of the Oregon Department of Transportation maintenance yard along Main Street.

Currently the city has one paid employee, fire chief/paramedic Jeff Pricher, to respond 24/7 to all emergencies. While he has the support of 12 volunteers, many of them work out of the area during the day, leaving Pricher and a public works employee the only ones available to respond.

That includes serving Cascade Locks’ needs but also the region assigned by the Oregon Health Division.

“We respond all the way to Multnomah Falls and to the other end to Viento State Park,” Pricher said. “That is our ambulance service district.”

“Therein lies the issue of operating a fire and ambulance district over a large area with a small population,” said Willoughby. “If we don’t fill the gap, there will be a big hole.”

The department covers fire and ambulance calls now with an aging fleet of equipment. On a tour of the fire hall, Pricher gestures at the cracks and strains marking the 1956 cinder block structure as well as its stressed equipment.

“We have a 33-year-old fire engine with an engine older than me,” said Pricher.

If something else breaks, the city does not have money to fix it.

An example is the engine lying on cardboard panels on the floor. The engine burned up in December. Someone donated the replacement and someone else is donating labor to install it.

“If this levy does not pass, we probably won’t be able to continue the ambulance service,” Willoughby said. “We literally cannot do that with just volunteers. We have no tax base for fire and ambulance, just one general fund for the city that pays for everything.”

In 2005, 70 percent of the fire department’s calls were for rescue and emergency medical service.

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