With an astounding show of support for both Alice Busch and her position as fire prevention and public information officer, members of the Sandy community made their feelings known - in force - at a recent Sandy Fire District board meeting.

Funding for the prevention and public information position fell into budgetary limbo in April.

Then on Tuesday, June 14, at least 50 people crammed into the Sandy Fire District annex (across the street from the main fire station).

The outcome? The Sandy Fire Board will fund the public information officer position, if only at 24 hours a week.

Some history

The Sandy Fire District was left in the lurch when the Boring Fire District made its intentions known in April that it would step out of the Joint Fire Prevention Division with the Sandy Fire District.

The division was created 12 years ago as a way to share resources among fire districts for public education and fire prevention efforts.

A contract between the districts stated either party could remove itself from the division at any time with 180 days notice.

Busch, a Sandy Fire District employee, spent her time as a public information officer serving both districts. With Boring removing itself from the picture, Sandy was left wondering what to do with the fire prevention program and those employed as a direct result - namely, Busch.

Boring's departure

Boring Fire Chief Doug Branch explained the decision to end the contract with the Sandy Fire District as a simple exercise in tailoring employee resources.

'We came to a point where I think there were some different needs and decided that it was time to look at a different model and a different way of doing things,' Branch said.

Branch cited a need for fire prevention work that was tailored more specifically to the Boring district, as well as some financial causes, as reasons for backing out of the division.

Financial reasons include the likelihood of hiring of a full-time fire marshal to replace Boring's retiring half-time fire marshal.

As the Boring Fire District examined the fire prevention and information officer job descriptions, the need for an employee who can multitask emerged as a top priority. For Boring, this may be someone who informs the public about fire safety and, for example, performs clerical duties.

'We may need this new position to fill our needs where we have (them),' Branch said. '(This position needs) to be flexible. We'll see how it plays out.'

The Sandy response

Sandy Fire Board member Joe Barnett pointed out it would be beneficial for the Sandy employee to have similar qualities; that it would be practical for the public information officer to be able to throw on a pack during a fire, or serve as a paramedic in times of absolute need.

Sandy Fire Chief Gary McQueen was asked to prepare options concerning the future of Sandy's PIO position. Those options included:

• Pulling all funding from the fire prevention program; or,

• Converting the position to half time, three-quarter time or full time.

The June 14 meeting

During the fire board meeting, the chief and the members of the board agreed it was only necessary to discuss the half-time option.

'Our attitude is that we're going to continue to provide the best service that we can to the public,' McQueen said.

About 50 people filled the Sandy Fire District's annex for the Fire Board meeting. In comparison, Chief McQueen said in his memory no more than five people have attended any single board meeting within the past 11 years.

Citizen after citizen stood up during the public comment portion of the meeting, all of them offering glowing reviews of Busch and the importance and effectiveness of the fire prevention program.

'This is not so much to support Alice, but to support the community,' said Dorothy McCune, Damascus resident and Community Emergency Response Team coordinator. 'If something were to happen, like the Columbus Day storm or the flood of '96, the community would be prepared.

'A year from now, there's no question in my mind that (Busch) will be doing the exact same thing that she's doing now. The question is whether she'll be doing it here, or for the benefit of some community somewhere else.'

At least 11 people stepped forward to commend the program and Busch's work, from Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Hollis MacLean-Wenzel, to Naas Elementary School teacher Dorothy Thorson, to Sandy Budget Committee member Phil Moyer.

Some citizens stood up to simply share their gratitude for the personal attention and care Busch offered when other resources failed.

The Fire Board's decision to fund the position at 24 hours a week is based on the idea that Busch already was a part-time employee within the Sandy District. That's because she shared her time and duties with the Boring Fire District under the division contract.

Saying the district is unable to fund a full-time public information officer when faced with many other pressing needs, the board unanimously agreed 24 hours was the most practical option.

Busch's response

'I think it's completely legit that the board takes this opportunity to re-evaluate their preventions services and figure out what they want to do,' Busch said. 'I think the reason the community started writing letters (to the board, in support of Busch and the PIO position) is because any time you re-evaluate something there's a chance that you will come to the conclusion that you don't need it anymore. I think they wanted to communicate that fire prevention is important to them.'

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