Jackson County Fire District No. 3 officials are hopeful a strategic planning process will guide the growing district through the next three to five years.

Jackson County Fire District No. 3 officials are hopeful a strategic planning process will guide the growing district through the next three to five years.

Fire Chief Dan Petersen said the process will determine whether and where new stations might be needed, whether some existing stations should be eliminated or downsized, and whether other changes are needed to the district of 167 square miles.

"This plan is, basically, an analysis of our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats," Petersen said.

District 3 provides fire protection to 48,000 residents with fully manned stations in Central Point, White City and Eagle Point, and volunteer stations in Gold Hill, Shady Cove and Sams Valley.

Petersen said the district hopes to evaluate resources and needs in a way that would boost response times and deal with growth.

A rate increase is not among the list of suggestions being considered, he said.

"I think that the public is generous enough with what they're contributing to the district," he said.

"At this point, we're just really looking at our best service delivery within that constraint. We might explore the idea of certain capital projects where we might look for additional money, but unless the public says we really want this, I'm going to assume they've given us the money so now we need to manage it properly and give the best service possible."

Petersen said the district hopes to boost response times in rural areas and address population shifts in other areas.

"Nine minutes is average (response time) and we're getting a lot of calls in rural areas that are hitting 13 and 14 minutes," he said. He attributed the longer response times to increased traffic in urban areas and decreased volunteer staff in outlying areas.

"There are more training requirements on volunteers than there were 20 or 30 years ago, so we're seeing a big decrease in the number of community volunteers," he said.

"Part of our future goals could involve a reemphasis of recruitment in rural communities."

Options to increasing coverage could include staffing an existing volunteer station in Gold Hill; building a station on Table Rock Road; and building a station at one of two sites along Blackwell Road, Petersen said.

Overall, Petersen said the focus of the strategic planning process is to communicate with customers. The district held a series of meetings in November with government officials and business owners within its service area.

"This is the first time the district has asked the community for input," he said.

"One of my targets when I came over to the district was that I wanted to make sure we had dialogue more with the community."

Central Point City Administrator Phil Messina said the city appreciated being included in the process.

"Chief Petersen has been attending City Council meetings from time to time and briefing the city of fire district business. This is the first time in many, many years that that's occurred."

"Chief Petersen has really done a lot to reach out and reconnect the city and the fire district."

The final plan is expected by January or February.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.