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TVF&R to expand service to Newberg, North Plains temporarily

Fire agency sets sights on Newberg, North Plains for possible expansion.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue is considering expanding to North Plains and Newberg, after signing to temporary consolidation agreements with the communities. The two year trial period could result in public votes to annex the local fire agencies into TVF&R.Oregon’s second largest fire department is about to get a little bit bigger.

Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue has received approval from two local fire departments to expand its service area to include Newberg and parts of rural Washington County, at least temporarily.

Starting this summer, TVF&R will take over operations of Washington County Fire Dist. 2 and in Newberg, a move that’s expected to be the first step in eventually annexing the two areas into its service permanently.

“An analogy our previous fire chief used to use was that this is the engagement before you get married,” TVF&R spokeswoman Cassandra Ulven told Pamplin Media Group on Tuesday. “We don’t want to make a lifelong commitment if it isn’t a good match. This gives Newberg and Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue an opportunity to see if it fits.”

Last month, Washington County Fire District 2, a rural fire agency with stations in North Plains and in Midway, south of Hillsboro, approved a contract to consolidate the two agencies temporarily. The two have flirted with the idea of consolidation before. TVF&R took over administrative services for the district last fall.

This month, the Newberg City Council unanimously approved a similar consolidation contract with TVF&R for its firefighters, the Newberg Fire Department.

The contracts with Fire District 2 and Newberg will be in place for two years.

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue is made up of several former fire agencies, districts and departments, which merged together to pool resources.

More firefighters, training, on the way

According to Ulven, both Newberg Fire and Washington County Fire District 2 will see additional staffing, training in advanced life support and firefighting techniques, vehicle maintenance and building inspections starting in July, as well as training for specialty rescue teams such as water rescue, hazardous materials response, and technical operations.

“The operational contracts will allow elected leaders to evaluate whether permanent partnerships are a good fit for both organizations,” Ulven said. “Ultimately, voters in District #2 and Newberg's service areas will have the opportunity to make the final decision.”

For Newberg, the contract is an effort to fix problems in fire service levels due to the increase in service population mixed with the limitations to the city’s ability to raise taxes imposed by state regulations.

The Newberg Fire Department hasn’t hired any additional staff or firefighters since 2006, despite a 42 percent increase in service demands over that time, according to TVF&R.

Newberg’s budget, Newberg Fire Chief Les Hallman said, does “not have the capacity to address our immediate need for additional staffing, much less the ability to address our long-term needs as our population and demand for service will continue to grow.”

The city of Newberg will pay nearly $5 million during the first year of the agreement and just shy of $3.5 million for the second year.

“It’s a good deal for Newberg in terms of being able to increase service with a minimal investment on our part,” said Newberg City Manager pro tem Steve Rhodes.

Michael Sherman, shop steward for the Local 1660 chapter of the International Association of Firefighters, which represents Newberg firefighters, stated that when the rumors first arose last summer that Newberg might join TVF&R, there was a fear about major changes to the longstanding NFD traditions. But now, he said, those fears have been eased as more information has been shared between the two agencies.

“I’ve come to realize that the real tradition of our fire department is service,” he said.

A history of expansion

The consolidations are nothing new for TVF&R, the agency was formed after the Washington County Fire District 1 and Tualatin Rural Fire Protection District merged in 1989. Since then, they’ve annexed five other agencies, including the fire departments of Beaverton and West Linn into its service area.

“A lot of small rural fire departments and districts were struggling to meet their needs, but when we joined forces we were able to pool resources and increase our level of service,” Ulven said.

Ulven said that TVF&R is expanding its operations not only lightens the tax rate, but helps the district gain fresh ideas.

“We’ve always benefited to adding different agencies and departments to our system,” Ulven said. “The diversity of thought and skills and resources makes us better as a whole. We think this will be the same way.”

The contract period will officially begin July 1 and will run through June 30, 2018.

“Between now and then, we’re starting to get uniforms and equipment together so that by the time the contract is in effect, we’re ready to roll,” Ulven said.

— Reporter Colin Staub contributed to this report

By Geoff Pursinger
Assistant Editor
The Times, serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood
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