WALDPORT — Central Oregon Coast Fire and Rescue invites the public to attend an open house and barbecue Saturday afternoon at the fire station at 125 NW Alsea Highway in Waldport.
Lt. Erich Knudson said the purpose of the event is twofold: show the community the new location of the fire station and recruit volunteers.
“We’ve expanded into the old city hall area. We want people to see where we are at and how things work,” Knudson said.
The fire district plans to ask voters to support a bond to remodel the station sometime in the near future, Knudson said. The district is currently working with an architecture and engineering group to design the remodel. Knudson said there will be several opportunities for citizens to review proposed floor plans and comment on their favorite options.
“We really want to give them the opportunity to design the station,” because it ultimately belongs to the public, Knudson said. “We are maintaining it the best we can, but it’s out of date.”
The fire district also hopes to recruit new volunteers to train at the upcoming fire academy in September.
“It would be great to see if we could get some people on board and get them the training they need to start showing up and helping out their community,” Knudson said.
COCFR in Waldport has about 14 volunteers with the fire district. Three of those volunteers can actually respond to fire calls. Other volunteers may be trained to provide emergency medical services only or simply serve as support staff for the station.
“On top of showing up to help with events, if we do have a big fire (these volunteers) a lot of times will come and bring water to the scene, or more air packs,” Knudson said.
In rural communities such as Waldport, with few or no paid firefighting staff, volunteers help shorten response times, which can prevent fires or medical emergencies from causing additional damage. Volunteers also round out the emergency response staff without requiring the district to spend additional tax dollars to hire more paid staff.
“It does help. Of course, the first call we get during the day, it’s 90 seconds out the door. If we don’t have a lot of volunteers … it’s those second and third calls that can be delayed Knudson said.”
Nationwide, the number of volunteer firefighters is on the decline. The most recent needs assessment conducted by the National Fire Protection Agency showed a “definite downward trend,” with roughly 823,000 volunteer firefighters in 2001 compared to roughly 808,000 in 2015.
And recently, many fire districts have started to struggle to recruit volunteers because volunteers can’t find local housing options or their work schedules conflict with weekday and daytime emergencies, among other challenges.
“The issue that many districts and departments are facing is the availability of volunteers that are able to respond to calls around the volunteers’ already chaotic schedules,” Knudson said. “On top of call response, there is a requirement to participate in a certain number of regular drills and continued training hours. (It) makes being a volunteer tough when they have so much to juggle already.”
On the local level, Knudson said it’s difficult to compare volunteer numbers “of yesteryear” with current rates because much has changed, including the needs of agencies and training requirements for volunteers. Still, Waldport faces the same challenges in recruiting volunteers who are able to cover a wide range of available hours.
The goal with the open house, then, is to broaden the department’s volunteer pool, so there is always someone available to help with a fire or emergency call, no matter the time of day, Knudson said.
The open house runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the fire station at 125 NW Alsea Highway. Food and beverages will be provided, and attendees can tour the station or explore the fire engines up close. Volunteer applications will be available during the open house, and citizens can ask questions about how they can get involved to help, Knudson said.