In the year and six months since voters accepted a bond to merge the Hermiston and Stanfield fire districts, the resulting Umatilla County Fire District 1 has seen swift changes. But with the exception of minor growing pains, Fire Chief Scott Stanton said the transition has been smooth.
“There have been very few bumps in the road,” Stanton said. “There were no surprises on my radar. We put in a lot of groundwork and labor, and mitigated any possible pitfalls that could happen from this.”
So successful has the new district been that they were presented the “Oregon Fire District of the Year” award last week from the Oregon Fire District Association conference.
Stanton attributed the award to several changes they implemented shortly after forming the new district.
“The biggest deal was getting the second station staffed, finally,” he said. “We’ve already seen lives saved and fires put out that wouldn’t have otherwise.”
The second station, at East Punkin Center and Diagonal roads, has been around for 31 years, but had never been staffed full-time until March of this year.
The district has hired six people to staff the station.
Stanton said he was also proud of the community paramedic program, which the district began in June in conjunction with Good Shepherd Medical Center’s ConneXions program, which connects people with community health resources. The program allows paramedics to partner up with community health workers and visit the homes of people who have chronic illnesses or who have just been released from the hospital. The goal of the program is to help people manage their health issues to prevent unnecessary return trips to the hospital, thereby reducing the strain on paramedics and ambulances.
Stanton said the grant-funded program has been a positive for the community so far.
“We’re seeing some amazing work being done with the paramedics in conjunction with the ConneXions program,” he said.
The third major change, Stanton said, has been the building of the drill tower at the district’s Station 23 on Westland Road. The four-story tower, which was just completed, will be used by UCFD, and was built in conjunction with Blue Mountain Community College for the school’s Fire Science Program. But Stanton said the facility will be a resource for fire districts and programs throughout Eastern Oregon.
“We’re already in talks with County Search and Rescue about starting a rope rescue team,” he said. “As a regional concept, versus just us doing it.”
Blue Mountain Community College and UCFD will host a grand opening for the new fire training tower at noon on Monday, Nov. 20 at the station, at 78760 Westland Road.
The district’s first priority, Stanton said, is making some capital improvements to the district, such as replacing new engines and updating fire equipment.
They also hope to secure a grant for a new app called “Pulse Point,” which civilians trained in CPR can use to alert them if someone nearby has an emergency. They can then administer CPR before medics arrive, potentially saving the person’s life.
“Say you’re in Wal-Mart, when a cardiac arrest goes out through the dispatch system,” Stanton said. “It comes up over the phone that the person is in aisle 16. You might be in aisle 10, and can initiate CPR.”
Stanton said as the district progresses, they’d like to work on getting sustainable funding for the community paramedic program and to recruit more volunteer firefighters.
“That’s an issue across the state, and across the nation,” he said. “It’s not new, but it is an ongoing problem.”
The bond, which was designed to consolidate and improve fire and emergency medical services for the area, passed by about 61 percent, with voters approving three separate measures — one each to dissolve Hermiston and Stanfield’s fire districts, and a third to form the new district and establish its funding.
The district cost Hermiston and Stanfield residents an additional $1.75 per $1,000 of assessed value, and was projected at election time to bring in about $900,000.