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Empty fire station raises questions following Aug. 18 Damascus blaze

Following a fire on Tuesday, Aug. 18, that damaged a professional building in Damascus, many residents had one question: why were the fire trucks next door to the burning building just sitting in the garage?

Clackamas County Fire Lt. Steve Hoffeditz had the answer. The station, served by both Boring and Clackamas fire districts, is only staffed from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Unfortunately the fire that destroyed about half the building and caused extensive smoke damage to the other half started at 5:05 p.m.

“I think if (the first station) was manned 24/7 we would have been there first,” Hoffeditz said. “Those guys would have put a good stop on it.”

Although firefighters from Clackamas and Gresham arrived minutes after the fire broke out, Hoffeditz said because of the wind and warm temperatures, the fire was already in the building. The fire started after a truck’s tailpipe made contact with a juniper bush. The bush went up in flames, igniting several others around it and quickly spread to the building, causing the roof to cave in.

All the while, two shiny red fire trucks were sitting unused a stone’s throw away.

Hoffeditz said he hopes to have that fire station manned 24/7 in the future when Boring and Damascus will likely merge many services. On July 1, 2014, Clackamas County entered into a five-year contract for service with Boring, which has increased Boring’s efficiency and has improved service for Damascus as well.

“Most people don’t know that the Damascus Fire Station, for several years, has basically been a garage,” said Chris Hawes, a Damascus resident who was unsuccessful in his bid for a seat on the Boring Fire District board this year. “You don’t think about it because you drive by and you think the guys are in there watching TV, but that’s not the case. There was nobody there.”

The contract with Clackamas allowed Boring to staff its three fire stations, something that could also happen in Damascus as money allows.

“We’ll probably have the funds to look at possibly opening it to be a 24/7 station like all the rest,” Hoffeditz said.

Although it’s unfortunate that the fire broke out right next to the fire station when no one was there, Boring and Clackamas are able to respond to Damascus in a timely fashion. As a nationally accredited station, the standard for responding to a fire in suburban areas is to have 14 firefighters on scene within 16 minutes. On Feb. 4, when a fire was reported in Damascus, which is part of the Boring district, Clackamas Fire had 23 firefighters on scene in 11 minutes and 32 seconds.

“It was a quirk that it happened right after 5 p.m.,” said Hawes. “Damascus doesn’t have a fire department. It’s one of the few cities in the state served by two different fire districts.”

Hawes said service has improved overall for the city, however.

“It’s improved quite a bit,” Hawes said. “People were really upset because you have a fire station right next to (the fire) and they’re not rolling out from there … but the staffing is a lot better than it was.”

— jweinberger@theoutlookonline.com

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