On Wednesday, Oregon City's city commission held its first public meeting since Clackamas County Fire District #1 announced that it will terminate its contract with the city on June 30, 2008.

'We learned that our options are limited, and that the city faces huge public safety needs - not only fire, but also police,' said Mayor Alice Norris. 'After we have a chance to discuss these issues with the public, we'll move towards making a decision.'

Possible solutions include annexation to the fire district, or the passage of a five-year public safety levy. Officials were less sanguine about alternative solutions, such as the formation of a volunteer fire department.

Chief Ed Kirchhofer with CCFD #1 explained that 'volunteer' is not the same as 'free.'

'That option would dramatically increase fire insurance premiums,' he said. 'When we had that fire here on 7th Street recently, there was a shop in the same building that was able to open for business the following day, because of the firefighters efforts to tarp and salvage.'

He estimated that it would cost the city $2 million to purchase the necessary equipment and apparatus, and that state and federal standards require extensive training - even for volunteers.

'The city would have to hire staff to train their volunteers, and it doesn't have a training facility,' he said. 'You can't just snap your fingers and have a viable volunteer fire fighting force.'

Kirchhofer also told city commissioners about the high level of service that Oregon City receives from CCFD #1 - services that would be further improved under annexation and the opening of the South End fire station.

'We've replaced all of our EKG units with new, 12-lead models,' he said. 'That has dramatically enhanced the survival of cardiac arrest victims. Those, along with new training and procedures, have made our survival rates equal to the best in the nation.

'It is important for Oregon City to recognize the quality of care that they are receiving.'

The chief denied that the letter announcing the termination of the contract was timed to punish the city for annexing land in the fire district, which has the double effect of reducing funding for the district while simultaneously increasing calls for service.

'That is absolutely not the case,' said Kirchhofer. 'Our decision about when to send the letter was to give the city the maximum amount of time to address the problem within our existing contract.'

For her part, Mayor Norris expressed her hope that the city would emerge from this crisis stronger than before, with its public safety needs met for generations to come.

'My preferred outcome would be to annex to the fire district, and solve the other public safety issues that have been plaguing us for so long,' she said. 'This may be our one opportunity to return to fiscal health.'

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