The question is not in doubt — Rick Brand, Joe Brier and Daphne Phillips will be elected to a seat on the Philomath Fire & Rescue’s board of directors in the upcoming special election.

Brand in Position 4 and Phillips in Position 5 are running for four-year terms. Brier’s seat is to finish out two years of an unexpired term. All three are currently on the board and all three are unopposed on the May 16 ballot. Ken Corbin and Doug Edmonds are currently in the middle of four-year terms.

Elsewhere in the region, four seats on the Blodgett-Summit Rural Fire Protection District board are on the ballot and there are four candidates running unopposed — Shannon Zuschlag (Position 1), Britt Carlson (Position 2), Mark Scacco (Position 4) and Andrew Burton (Position 5). Zaschlag and Carlson are running for four-year terms while Scacco and Burton will finish out two years of unexpired terms.

Evelyn Hukari (Position 1) and Ted A. Baker (Position 2) are running unopposed for two seats on the Hoskins-Kings Valley Rural Fire Protection District board. Both seats are four-year terms.

To give voters more familiarity with the Philomath Fire & Rescue board members representing the community, the Philomath News asked each of them three questions.

Q1: What innovative approaches to expand community fire safety programs would you support?

Brand: “I don’t believe the approaches I would support are all that innovative. They are basic and address the root of events, both fire and medical in nature. I believe safety happens through awareness and education. This includes the PF&R staff staying safe, but also community members who are experiencing events. Seeing that 75% to 80% of calls for service are for medical aid, training more community members in first aid, CPR and accident prevention makes sense. Fire prevention training for citizens and businesses should also be expanded. Wildland fires have the potential for much damage so homeowners should be aware of and follow safety policies.”

Brier: “The 2020 wildfires illustrated the challenges we face in the wildland-urban interface. I would like to see the district expand on our current programs and partner with other agencies targeting these areas and types of incidents.”

Phillips: “Our training and outreach team at PF&R is constantly on the lookout for new ways to expand community fire safety and I support their efforts to increase home safety awareness, especially through the drier fire season months. We are really excited to see how they develop this program further in the coming months and years.”

Q2: With the difficulties that many fire departments see with attracting and keeping volunteers, do you see the possibility that the district will need to expand its paid firefighting staff?

Brand: “Volunteers will always be needed and welcomed. I do believe more paid firefighters are needed whether or not volunteers are available. There need to be enough paid firefighters to be able to staff all shifts comfortably. Right now absences for any reason mean paying overtime. Volunteers still play a valuable role as backup when paid staff is on calls. This means they may and will respond to calls as they are trained to do. Many volunteers also have other skills from their professions that are useful to the department.”

Brier: “Volunteer firefighters are decreasing nationwide. There are many factors contributing to this such as the aging of the rural population, increased time demands for training and response activities, etc. The district’s No. 1 priority is that we have the proper number of trained firefighters on scene in a timely manner to address the life safety component of the emergency. Volunteers are an integral part of the district’s operations. I would not want to see that change, however, we need to look at our operations and have an honest conversation about our staffing model and how to best provide service.”

Phillips: “The PF&R Volunteer Department is working hard on recruitment and our core team is really strong and dedicated. It is our hope that we will attract some new volunteers in the coming fiscal year. That said, with Philomath’s recent growth, expanding our paid firefighting staff is a possibility. Public safety is our highest priority, no matter how we staff the department.”

Q3: What ideas do you have that would address the top challenges facing the fire district?

Brand: “Funding is probably the biggest problem as it is with many fire districts. With tax revenues restricted to 2% increase per year, times of inflation create issues funding staff, services and supplies. Many of our vendors raised prices by 10% to 20% in the past year. There will be additional increases in the coming year. While grants are available in a few cases, they usually call for matching funds or are limited in scope and duration. It’s not a new idea that the district will eventually need to ask voters to approve a tax levy to help fund operational expenses.”

Brier: “Our biggest challenge is recruitment and retention of firefighters, both career and volunteer. I believe that to recruit and retain these individuals it starts with the culture of the department. PF&R has had some challenges and I believe we are on the right track in addressing those. My goal is to support the chief in creating a culture that draws talented and motivated people to participate in the community.”

Phillips: “I’m really glad we have solid leadership in place and that our team is made up of excellent, talented individuals. I support further outreach to attract new volunteers to expand and strengthen our services as Philomath grows. We’re looking at a number of ways to fund needed improvements and expand services, including grants. As our call volume goes up, staffing remains our top concern.”

Brad Fuqua

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.

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