Managers in Boring Fire District sit on the CPO hot seat

Anyone living in Boring knows there have been some changes in the local fire department.

To set the record straight, three members of the 66-year-old Boring Fire and Rescue District approached the Boring Community Planning Organization on Nov. 6, the night of the general election.

While they spoke in a meeting room filled to overflowing with 55 local residents, attendees were preparing questions they would ask the trio after their introductory remarks.

Speaking were Chris Olson, a fire board member who was not speaking for the board at the CPO meeting; Acting Fire Chief Brian Stewart, who was introduced to the CPO for the first time; and Lt. Rick Searles, who has been a volunteer firefighter for 10 years.

One of the reasons the fire department came to the CPO, Olson said, was to help inform local residents about recent changes in the department, following the retirement of former fire chief Doug Branch.

Olson admitted there was a lot of unexpected interest nationwide in the chief’s position, but he said he believed the board made the correct choice in Stewart.

Stewart had been hired a couple of months earlier to fill an upper-level position at Boring Fire, and was promoted to acting chief after an application and interview for the chief’s job.

Stewart said he came up through the ranks in the San Francisco Bay Area and then worked in Washington at two departments, leaving his last position of assistant chief at Thurston when the position was eliminated.

He came to Boring to work with a district that for the past 18 months had served the community with its volunteers combined with those of Clackamas District No. 1.

“That process (combining volunteers) has worked out really well,” Olson said. “We’ve also been doing some other things with Clackamas, where they have more expertise than we do.”

Among the combined activities are information technology, covering the Damascus area, wellness, firefighter training, logistics, civil service commission and a physician coordinator.

The merging of these services has offered Boring more efficiency and cost savings, Board Chairman Les Otto said late last month.

Stewart contradicted Olson in his statement about Clackamas having more expertise than Boring staff.

“I’m here to tell you that we have some extremely talented individuals here,” Stewart said. “We don’t have the depth of resources that Clackamas has, but we’ve got some talented individuals — not from the response side, but for training and program management.”

The goal of both districts, Stewart said, is to use the industry’s best practices to serve local residents.

He also noted that Boring Fire has shared information, manpower and equipment with other neighboring districts, although to a lesser degree than currently with Clackamas.

Stewart said not all district volunteers are ready to combine with Clackamas, and there are lots of questions to be answered before the combination would be best for everyone.

To that end, an inter-agency committee was created to review the options.

A joint board meeting is scheduled in February 2013 that will allow the two districts’ leaders to hear ideas generated by the committee and determine if and how a combination or merger would benefit both districts.

Some in attendance were concerned about how the board might dissolve the Boring district and merge the two districts into one larger Clackamas district.

But Stewart said that wouldn’t happen. It would take a majority of registered voters to cause that scenario.

The fire board, however, could decide without voter approval to contract some or all emergency services with another fire district such as Clackamas No. 1.

In that case, Stewart said, local residents would still pay a tax to the Boring Fire District, and the board would use that money to pay for the contracted services.

“Unless you (voters) dissolve the tax boundaries (of the fire district),” Stewart said, “the board has a lot of discretion.”

Residents at the CPO meeting also were concerned about the bonded indebtedness of the Clackamas District in the event of a merger with Boring.

They introduced the question with the statement they didn’t want to pay any part of Clackamas’ debts.

Olson answered the question first by saying the Boring Fire District “is in great shape,” with an annual budget of about $4 million.

“We have about $1 million in the bank to carry us from July 1 to the time we get tax receipts,” he said.

“Conversely, Clackamas is borrowing money to cover that. We also have over $1 million in reserves for acquisition of property and equipment. Boring is in great shape.”

For more information, call Stewart at 503-663-4638.

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