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Fire district needs levy

If a significant earthquake hits West Linn, it's likely that fire and emergency services wouldn't be available. The fire stations could collapse on the apparatus, and help would have to come from outlying areas, according to Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue Assistant Chief Paul LeSage.

Both of West Linn's fire stations need to be replaced before the next major quake according to TVF and R Fire Chief Jeff Johnson.

LeSage says there are very good reasons why West Linn's stations need to be replaced.

'The West Linn facilities are not seismically stable,' he said. 'They're both very old buildings, and when we need to respond to an earthquake or windstorm neither building is stable enough to withstand even a moderate event.

'But even more important for us is the fact that neither station is large enough to house the modern fire apparatus that we use.'

The district has large horsepower engines and aerial engines that are longer than either of the current West Linn stations, Johnson said.

'We had to take engines that fit (the buildings),' he said, 'and have them remodeled and refurbished, just to hold us over. But the fact is that West Linn (officials) knew when they annexed to the district that they needed those facilities replaced. That was part of the deal.'

The new stations are more than an upgrade, Johnson said, they're a necessity.

'We want those stations right now,' he said. 'We need them now.'

TVF and R also needs additional space at Willamette to house the district's water rescue team, LeSage said, and more space at Bolton to house its volunteers.

Ballot Measure 34-133 in the Nov. 7 general election asks West Linn voters to consider providing up to $77.5 million in 20-year bonds for a variety of upgrades.

West Linn appears to gain more than its share of the upgrades, even though it represents less than 6 percent of the district's population.

In this bond, which benefits a population of 420,000, West Linn would get about 10 percent of the new apparatus, 28 percent of the new and rebuilt stations and significantly reduce its response times - all for a population of 24,000.

The response-time reduction would be partially due to the relocation of the Bolton station to Elliott Street from its current Failing Street site, said LeSage.

The rest of the response-time reduction would be due to larger horsepower engines placed at the Willamette station for their uphill trip on Salamo Road.

Relocating the Bolton station closer to Hwy. 43 would be of benefit because a current call takes the crew and engine 45 seconds to reach Hwy. 43. The engine has to turn left outside the station, travel to Buck Street and turn left, travel to Elliott Street and turn left, and then travel uphill to the signal at Hwy. 43.

'The district's intent is to arrive at any emergency, either fire or medical, within six minutes 90 percent of the time,' LeSage said. 'By simply turning this fire station around (and facing it on Elliott Street) and putting a fire engine in there with more power, we can arrive at our destination within the approved period of time.'

TVF and R already has purchased land on Elliott Street to help with a quick transition, since the olton station is to be the first the district builds after the bond is approved.

A nearly three-year-old agreement, begun when West Linn voters annexed to the district, requires TVF and R to rebuild both West Linn fire stations. The city must approve plans for the Bolton station by at least 2009 and the Willamette station by 2011. The district also would add to West Linn stations a new pumper and an aerial engine. In the meantime, local residents would not pay more than $1.89 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for all services and the bond. That's a little more than six cents above the current tax rate.

Johnson said that amount will not increase until after 2009, according to the agreement.

To bolster its response potential in West Linn, TVF and R is planning to place a new ladder truck in the North Wilsonville or Tualatin area so that its response time to West Linn could be minimized.

Johnson says TVF and R has remained true to its agreement with West Linn voters, and he is hoping they will continue to fund capital improvements to the fire district, which is asked to serve a 216-square-mile area with an ever-growing population.

'We're fulfilling the promises we made and the terms under which we made it to West Linn voters when we annexed the city of West Linn,' Johnson said. 'This is a real boon to West Linn because they're getting some real infrastructure in the community.'

Johnson emphasized the regional aspect of the fire district, where additions to stations and apparatus improve the overall response of the system.

LeSage added that none of the nine cities in the district has enough equipment to respond alone to a single fire.

'It isn't just the two stations in West Linn that come to a fire,' he said. 'To put out a (single-family) fire, it takes between 18 and 23 firefighters, four engines, one ladder truck, two chief officers and one rehabilitation unit - all arriving within 12½ minutes. Really, it's the system (entire district) that serves West Linn and the other eight cities.'

The two chiefs are concerned that the infrastructure gets rebuilt seismically strong before any earthquake or other significant emergency event occurs.

But Johnson recognizes that it's the voters' decision.

'It is not my place to tell the voters that this is the most important (ballot measure) that they should consider,' he said. 'My job is to tell them what their fire and emergency responders need; to only ask for it when we need it; and to let (voters) use their good judgment about how they prioritize public safety with other needs.'