Development means more fire stations needed
Bob Wyffels may look to be a mild mannered general contractor on the outside, a truck full of tools, a square tape measure in his pocket, but when no one is looking, he can turn himself into a tenacious director on the Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue's Board.
Described as the largest fire district in the Northwest, Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue (TVF and R) has 22 fire stations throughout Washington County serving 440,000 people, spread out over 230 square miles.
To say the district is huge is an understatement.
The district came about when three county fire districts first merged in 1989 to become TVF and R and has since merged with four other districts, most recently with West Linn.
For the past 10 years, Wyffels, a long-time resident of Tigard, has served on the board and is currently its vice-president.
But before joining the Board, Wyffels had a strong interest to become a member of the budget committee. 'I got curious as to how they were spending my money,' he said and got hooked on the public process of watching the purse strings of his fellow taxpayer's money.
Wyffels has lived in the Tigard area since 1969 and since 1998 he has been running his general contracting business, doing home remodeling and repairs in the area.
He has seen the explosive growth of homes in this region, Tigard, Tualatin, Bull Mountain and now King City and he says it is of serious concern to the fire district.
The fire district, said Wyffels is a public institution that must have a far ranging look, not only five years down the road, but all the way out to what the district's possible needs are for 20 years from now.
'This is a great place to live,' Wyffels said. 'it has great services and a significant amount of land available to be built on, and it will be built on. We have to look at that future and provide fire services accordingly.'
Concern now is with Bull Mountain, especially the Southwest side of the ridge where so many homes, condos and apartments have been built and are continuing to be built.
Fire stations are located in communities so that the units can respond to an emergency in the quickest amount of time. Wyffels said, with all the new homes being built out on the west end of Bull Mountain, it is stretching out the time that it takes for the firemen from King City to respond.
'Somewhere we will have to site a station in that area,' he added. 'Development there is putting pressure on the fundamentals of the fire stations and the number one fundamental is service.'
The trick is to try and plan for where the growth will be over the next decade or two. Fire Chief Jeff Johnson in May briefed the Board of Directors on five possible land acquisitions, including a possible site for a new station along Gaarde Road on the north side of Bull Mountain.
Otherwise, land is picked and bought and held by TVF and R over time. The board makes the decision now because land can get very expensive, especially since the fire department is competing with developers for the same land that homes can be built on.
But without the forward thinking of the fireboard, developers are handicapped in placing subdivisions where adequate fire service will be available. It can be a real catch twenty- two situation.
But budget requirements, land for fire stations, equipment and personnel matters are not all that is on Wyffels mind when he is in his director mode. He also reminds people what fire departments are for now that summer is here and it is scorching hot.
'Wildfire can happen and this is the height of the fire season. As development moves into rural areas, a grassy hillside covered with dry brush next to hundreds of homes is a concern to us.' And not the least of it, Wyffels adds, 'When you see a fire truck or ambulance, pull to the right and let them through.'