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Fire district says it's being left out of the loop

A rural fire district has cried foul over being excluded from recent discussions about possible consolidation of Fire District No. 3 and Medford Fire-Rescue.

"There have been meetings without our knowledge, and we have been denied attendance at other meetings," stated a letter sent on Feb. 18 from Medford Rural Fire Protection District No. 2 to Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler.

The fire protection district, which encompasses rural areas just outside the city limits of Medford, expressed concern about the recent naming of Deputy City Manager Bill Hoke as acting fire chief.

The city last year fired former fire chief Dave Bierwiler, then named Deputy Fire Chief Gordon Sletmoe as acting fire chief. Recently Sletmoe returned to his role as deputy fire chief and Hoke was named acting fire chief.

"We have significant concerns about the recent changes in the fire chiefs," the letter stated.

Bob Sheets, who is a member of the Fire District 2 board of directors, said, "They've assigned Mr. Hoke to be the new fire chief, and he doesn't have fire department background."

The city of Medford last year agreed to study consolidation of services provided by Fire District 3 and Medford Fire-Rescue, which already respond to calls in each others' jurisdictions.

Some of the ideas discussed include merging some management positions and shared recruitment and training between the departments. A report on consolidation of services is expected by April.

Sheets said there is a lot at stake for his fire district over the issue of consolidation, particularly how it would affect response times and the use of equipment supplied by his district.

Medford Fire-Rescue has provided coverage for Fire District 2 since 1952. Within the rural fire district are 11,326 residents in an area covering more than 30 square miles, mostly on the east, south and somewhat to the west of the city limits.

In 2013, Medford Fire-Rescue responded to 9,574 calls, of which 718, or 7.5 percent, were in Fire District 2.

In return, Fire District 2 provides $1.4 million annually to Medford, along with three fire engines and other equipment.

Sheets said his fire district spent $300,000 to install new defibrillator equipment in five of Medford's fire engines.

"We feel like we have a pretty big iron in the fire," he said.

Sheets said representatives from Medford have met with representatives from Fire District 3 without notifying or asking for a representative from Fire District 2.

Councilor Bob Strosser said he wants to respect the long-term relationship that the Medford Fire Department has had with the Fire District 2.

Strosser said Fire District 2 officials should be involved in all negotiations and discussions with Fire District 3.

"We need to bridge that gap," he said.

Some of the issues of concern to Fire District 2 include not increasing taxes to pay for the changes, not using district reserve funds, not shifting fire equipment away from the rural areas and receiving a good return on investment for equipment and training.

The district is concerned about any changes in response times or how it would make payments for services under a consolidation effort.

The City Council sent a letter back to Fire District 2 Friday responding to the concerns.

The letter, signed by Mayor Gary Wheeler, council President Daniel Bunn and council Vice President Eli Matthews, recommended that Fire District 2 direct additional questions to Hoke.

"We have complete confidence in his ability to professionally address your concerns and to command the department," the letter stated.

A meeting also is being scheduled between the City Council officers and the fire district board.

Wheeler, Bunn and Matthews stated that no outcome has been predetermined, and no policy decisions will be made until after a $40,000 study by Emergency Services Consulting International of Wilsonville is complete.

Dan Marcisz, a Fire District 2 board member, said his board is asking that it be kept in the loop as much as possible.

"You've got to communicate, and that hasn't happened," he said. "There should not be any reason that anyone should not want to involve us."

Marcisz said his fire district is concerned about Hoke's appointment as acting fire chief.

"We're not necessarily comfortable that we're being represented by the acting fire chief," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.