Ore. fire district changes mutual aid policies amid wildfire aid
As firefighters help battle the Camp Fire, the Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District passed a policy limiting how often crews can be sent to other places
By Brenna Visser
The Daily Astorian
CANNON BEACH, Ore. — As Clatsop County firefighters help battle the deadly Camp Fire in Northern California, the Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District narrowly passed a new policy on Monday limiting how often firefighters can be sent to fight fires in other places.
In a 3-2 vote, the fire district’s board decided that from June through October, the fire chief or other firefighters will only be able to be out on other calls 15 days out of any 30-day period, and can only be deployed within Oregon.
Reshaping the mobilization policy was born out of concern about the amount of time Fire Chief Matt Benedict spent helping fight fires around the state and California last summer — the season, some board members argue, where the fire district needs a fire chief most. Summer is typically when the fire district sees a higher emergency call volume and faces more fire danger.
The change comes after two unusually active fire seasons, prompting a record number of county firefighters to be mobilized around the state and California.
With experts predicting that longer and drier fire seasons could be the new normal for the West, some on the fire district’s board wanted to create regulations as a proactive way to balance the needs of the state while making sure the district is covered.
“My concern is just adequate staffing,” said Bob Cerelli, a board member.
While in support of the policy’s objective, board member Sharon Clyde didn’t feel the rules did enough to ensure the fire chief would lead the fire district during its busiest time.
“In my opinion, you have to look at it as a worst-case scenario,” Clyde said. “This whole thing started because of how much time he was gone last year. Now, this policy has him gone half the summer potentially.”
Benedict, however, strongly disagrees with the policy, viewing it as board overreach that will make running the fire district efficiently a challenge.
Benedict argues there are already measures in place to ensure the region is covered. Before anyone gets sent outside of the area for a fire, it is protocol for a fire chief to weigh factors like weather conditions, whether there are enough volunteers in town and other special circumstances before deciding to commit resources. He also has championed conflagration calls as invaluable training opportunities for volunteers.
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