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Ballot measures would fund rural firefighting crews

Two local fire districts — Jackson County Fire District No. 4 and Rogue River Fire District No. 1 — await voter decisions on ballot measures that would ensure at least half of staffing levels for the two rural areas in and around the Shady Cove-Trail and Rogue River communities.

After recent catastrophic fires, districts across the valley have struggled to maintain necessary equipment and personnel to prepare for large-scale events. Officials from both districts have said they’ve also experienced increased call volume for everyday emergencies.

Officials for both districts, run by a combination of paid and volunteer firefighters, said a significant amount of funding is at stake.

District 4, which serves 6,600 residences in a 37-square-mile area between Shady Cove and Trail, would lose four of seven paid employees without the proposed levy.

The Rogue River Fire District, which handles more than 2,300 service calls for a 77-mile area each year, would lose three.

District 4, run by a combination of career and volunteer firefighters, seeks voter approval for Measure 15-198, which would provide 99 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value and preserve more than 50% of the district staffing level.

“When we had the Obenchain fire, we weren’t getting any resources due to the Almeda fire going on at the same time, so we had just our seven staff holding back that fire for the first two days,” said District 4 firefighter-paramedic Cole Hornbrook.

“It’s definitely more important than in years past for sure. Fires, these past couple years, keep getting worse and worse so staffing is really, really crucial. Our firefighters were working 24-7 and pulling shifts as best we could. Back before we had this levy, we were running one-man crews. This would ensure we had two on staff at all times.”

Rogue River Fire District Chief James Price said his district is as reliant on levy funds as other small districts. Measure 15-196 would provide 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

“It’s an operations levy that has been in place since 2000, and we’ve not asked for an increase in the amount since it began. It’s been approved every five years, so we’re trying to just renew that levy,” Price said.

“It provides about 12% of our operating budget, which is about three people. With anything in fire service, the biggest cost is personnel, so that’s where you have to cut when you run short of money.”

One of two districts in the region to provide both ambulance and fire, District 4 provides service for an area spanning from the city limits of Gold Hill to the Josephine County border.

Price said budget cuts had been made in anticipation of funding shortages due to the ongoing pandemic, and the district was “cognizant of the fact a lot of people are struggling financially with everything going on.”

“If we didn’t have to ask, we wouldn’t be. We’ve had this for 20-plus years and we definitely need it,” Price said, noting that the importance of being fully staffed had resonated this year after “a bad, bad year” with recent fires.

“In case people think we’re a small district and we’re ‘not that busy,’ we run about 2,300 calls a year from our one station. We average seven per day. We stay pretty busy, so our personnel is crucial to our operations.”

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Fire District 4 crews fight a house fire. Mail Tribune/file photo