Cannon Beach to invest in new fire equipment, volunteers

Matt Benedict.

The Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District is focused on saving money for future upgrades in next fiscal year’s proposed budget.

Along with a new fire engine, nozzles and other apparatus, the fire district may add a recruitment officer to improve volunteer retention and add more paid, part-time firefighter positions.

This is Fire Chief Matt Benedict’s first budget cycle to oversee, and he said his goal is to help “standardize and streamline” the budgeting process for the district to clarify why each item is needed to the public.

“We’re setting this budget up for the future,” Benedict said. “We are saving money for when our apparatus need to be replaced to be fiscally responsible.”

Recruiting and keeping qualified volunteer firefighters is a task that is becoming increasingly more challenging not only for Cannon Beach, but for volunteer departments around the country, Benedict said. According to the National Fire Protection Association, the number of volunteers decreased 12 percent from 1985 to 2015.

To help with retention, Benedict is proposing to add $39,000 to the budget for more part-time firefighter positions. It would be structured so that existing volunteers could sign up for two, 10 hour paid shifts a week at $15 an hour. Seaside Fire Department already has a similar program.

Right now the fire district has 18 volunteers, which Benedict said is adequate for now. Ideally, he hopes to recruit to reach a total between 25 and 30.

“Volunteers who signed up for shifts would get more experience working aside me and others to know how to run a fire station. They need to know how it runs in case something happens to me,” Benedict said. “It’ll give them more confidence, more one-on-one attention — I see it as a win-win.”

Benedict said he also hopes the extra cash will help ease the financial burdens of his volunteers.

“Anything I can do to help my volunteers be more financially stable,” Benedict said.

Benedict is also proposing to apply for a four-year, $728,150 grant to fund a new recruitment officer. The funds would help pay the officer’s salary, as well as training and outreach materials to develop a longterm strategy to find and keep volunteers.

Lack of affordable housing and the high cost of living are two main reasons Benedict identified as major issues contributing to recruitment struggles.

“It’s definitely a trickle down effect,” he said.

About $85,000 is proposed to be transferred into a reserve fund for the eventual replacement of a 1995 fire engine set to expire in the next few years, and will eventually cost around $400,000. Fire nozzles and self contained breathing apparatus equipment will need to be replaced before expiring in 2019, and the district intends to secure a grant to foot a bill that could push $500,000.

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