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Sandy Fire District reconfigures fire prevention services

One officer cut to part time, other services paid on contract

With the recent dissolution of the Joint Fire Prevention Division between the Sandy and Boring fire departments, the public education-information-emergency management role Alice Busch has served is changing significantly.

But Sandy Fire Chief Gary McQueen said Busch will try to serve in as many of her previous roles as possible, just not in Boring because half of her salary and benefits were being paid by the Boring Fire District.

Going forward, her 40-hour week has shrunk to 24 hours, said McQueen, who is still writing her new job description.

'I think (her job) will have a little less emergency management (for Sandy),' he said, 'but she might still have a (lesser) role in that.

'In Sandy, (Busch) has helped bond the city, the school district and the fire district as well as other non-governmental organizations into a cooperative team for emergency management services to our community.'

Emergency management is a community effort, not just the fire department or the police department or the city, McQueen said.

Sandy Fire and Rescue has conducted a couple of strategic planning sessions (one last week), and those sessions affected Busch's changing role.

Busch's job title is now fire prevention officer, according to McQueen, but he said she would still be the district's source of public information, public safety and injury prevention, public education and fire prevention. She'll also likely be involved in emergency management, with a role that changes with the seasons.

McQueen said he would be evaluating her role and responsibilities in future months, and with board approval she could possibly see an expansion of her duties to full-time, if the district is able to afford it.

For the time being, she'll be full-time until August, but then she'll have to shed some of her traditional duties to keep her hours at no more than 24.

'We're going to be flexible as we grow into a different way of scheduling (Busch),' McQueen said. 'But we have done diligence to make sure we're not letting the public down. A decrease in her hours should not create a negative impact on the public.'

Beginning in 2012, McQueen said he's hoping a fire marshal for Sandy would come from Boring - paid as an independent contractor.

Most fire departments, including Boring and Sandy, are doing everything they can to remain fiscally sound. Knowing what his district is doing with strategic planning, McQueen suggests Boring also is in the throes of remaining sustainable.

'All of us (fire districts) are questioning our ability to sustain operations,' McQueen said. 'That's why we are doing strategic planning and forecasting.'

Boring has looked to a larger district (Clackamas Fire District) for a cooperative arrangement that would improve its services for the same or fewer dollars. That agreement, which merges the Clackamas and Boring volunteer firefighters into one association, was recently approved by both boards, making it the largest group of volunteers in the Western states.

Sandy has 55 volunteers to support a smaller staff of career firefighters - down from about 70 volunteers in 1980. McQueen admits sometimes there aren't enough volunteers to staff the required equipment - a topic discussed in the recent strategic planning meeting.

'This is a national issue (fewer volunteers),' he said. 'It has been a steady decline (from 1980 to 2011), but we've been maintaining (about 55) for quite a while.'

That being the case, there is even more need for the type of mutual aid and cooperation offered by neighboring fire districts.