There are new details today concerning what Lincoln County fire officials are calling a large increase in calls for service and a sharp decline in volunteer strength.
According to NLFR Capt. Jim Kusz, the district has experienced a large increase in call volume over the last two decades. In 1998, NLFR calls numbered 1,154 and rose to over 2,000 calls by 2012. A 54 percent increase. The call volume steadily increased in the District from 2,153 alarms in 2016, to 2,371 alarms in 2017. A 10 percent increase, continuing to break records.
In 2018, North Lincoln Fire & Rescue responded to yet another record of 2,868 calls, a 21 percent increase from 2017.
At the same time, the decline in volunteers has been alarming, according to Kusz. In 2017, NLFR had 43 volunteer firefighters.
"Today, there are 28 volunteer firefighters and EMS responders and 12 paid shift firefighters, with only 3 or 4 working, on shift 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," Kusz said.
The paid crews started August 8, 2017.
As to the decline in volunteers, Kusz said it is linked to changes in society.
"It is a cultural thing and an economic thing," he said. "People have to work and they are so busy, plus training requirements for volunteer firefighters have increased."
Kusz said the call volume increase for fire district service is directly related to population growth.
"And we have an aging society, so there are more medical calls. The majority of our calls are medical calls."
Kusz said the increase in calls and decline in firefighters isn’t only a problem in the NLFR District, the problem is throughout Lincoln County, the state of Oregon, and nationwide.
Newport Fire responded to 2,308 calls in 2018, a seven percent increase over 2017.
Fire officials said increasing wildfires across the west, and the need for local districts to help in the fire suppression is adding to the challenge.
“Last year Lincoln County had deployed on five fires in Oregon and California (a record number),” Newport Fire Chief Rob Murphy said. “These county task force deployments are lasting longer and put extra pressure on the resources within our departments”.
Fire officials said sending dozens of firefighters and equipment during peak tourism and fire season creates not only a lack of personnel within the borders of a District or Department, it impacts agencies ability to respond for “mutual aid” to assist neighboring districts for large fires, or staff additional medical personnel to scenes during multiple EMS calls.
Murphy said the solution to strengthening the fire service manpower will have to be a multi systems approach.
"There is not any magic bullet," he said. "Some of it is continuing to look for new revenue streams and also to look at service levels and what can sustained based on existing resources. That has to be evaluated."
Murphy said continuing to find innovative ways to recruit and retain volunteers will be critical.
"Because the fire districts and departments along the Oregon Coast will never have full paid staff," he said. "They are too small. So, we need to look for new ways to retain the volunteers. Poll the volunteers to see what they believe are important incentives. Perhaps that could be limited medical coverage."
In Depoe Bay, Fire Chief Bill Johnson said age and local are two main challenges for his fire department.
"Our average age of a volunteer is 59 years old," Johnson said. "Firefighting is really a profession for younger men and women. And because we don't have any major industry in Depoe Bay, most of our volunteers have to work out of the area."
Johnson said Depoe Bay Fire currently has nine paid firefighters and two paid chief officers with five in district and five out of district volunteers.
In 2018, Depoe Bay Fire responded to 803 calls for service, a slight decline from the 810 calls in 2017.
North Lincoln Fire & Rescue History
In March 1997, North Lincoln Fire & Rescue District #1 was formed with the merger of two Volunteer Firefighter Districts which have been serving the communities of North Lincoln County since 1937. TND (Taft, Nelscott, DeLake) Rural Fire District and Devils Lake Fire District. At the time of the merger the District had nearly 100 volunteers responding to just over 1,000 emergency calls annually.
North Lincoln Fire & Rescue Today
NLF&R has nine paid employees (Fire Chief, Fire Marshal, Safety Officer, Training Chief, Administrator, Clerk, Mechanics, etc.) who manage administrative tasks and are available during business hours.
Calls are responded to through the service of dedicated volunteer firefighters; they provide 24-hour day, night and weekend response from their homes or on standby shifts at two of the District’s six stations. These stations are strategically placed in Rose Lodge, Otis, Oceanlake area, DeLake area, and Taft area of Lincoln City, and Kernville.
Increase in the Districts calls created a need to hire 12 firefighters, (three of them being Paramedic’s) after a Levy measure was passed by our voters. The crews started August 8th, 2017.
Commitment to Fire, EMS, Water Rescue, Vehicle Crashes, Education
The District mandate is to provide fire suppression and investigation, as well as respond to medical calls, which account for 77% of all calls. The District currently provides services that do not fall under our fire suppression mandate; they are Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Motor Vehicle Crashes (MVC), and Water Rescue Services. In addition, the Fire District plays a major role in community response to such potential emergencies as earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as prevention activities like fire inspections, water safety and fire prevention education.
The District provides fire & emergency services to over 80 square miles of Lincoln County, with an estimated residential population of 14,000 people. This population swells with the influx of visitors, particularly on weekends and during the summer months three to four times as many people.
To the north, the District starts near the top of Cascade Head at the Tillamook County line, to the east it weaves through coastal forest as far as Mile Post 10.0 on Highway 18 and Mile Post 8.7 on Highway 229. The southern boundary is the Siletz River and the Pacific Ocean provides natural boundaries to the west.
Training, Facilities and Apparatus
North Lincoln Fire & Rescue has made a large investment in training, Personnel Protective Equipment (PPE), facilities and firefighting equipment. The District has purchased seven new engines, two tenders, several rescues, staff vehicles and two aerial units (75’ ladder and 100’ platform), replacing 24 of its fleet of 26 emergency response vehicles since1999. NLF&R is committed to the finest training and safety practices, while delivering rapid service to the community and visitors they serve.
On September 11th, 2009, the District dedicated a new DeLake Station and on September 8, 2012, dedicated a new training tower at the St. Clair Station in Taft.
As North Lincoln Fire & Rescue District #1 continues to grow and expand, these Standard Operating Guidelines (SOGs) serve as the roadmap for volunteers to understand the critical and lifesaving role they play in the community. These SOGs will give every member of the District information, rules and guidance for continued quality service that traditionally has been the standard given to our community.