The Cloverdale Rural Fire Protection District is going back to voters to seek funding to provide a sustainable level of 24/7 staffing. The District has filed a ballot measure for the May 17 election, seeking a 69-cents-per-$1,000 (assessed valuation) levy to fund 24/7 staffing by fire officers/EMTs.

Cloverdale Fire District voters in May 2021 said a vehement “no” to a levy that carried a tax rate of $1.35 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Voters rejected it by a 70 percent to 30 percent margin. The 2021 measure sought to add two paid firefighting staff and house an ambulance in the District. Plans also called for Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District to take on the administrative requirements of the Cloverdale District. Voters found that measure too expensive, and many feared loss of autonomy for the District.

The District board of directors, staff, and members of the volunteer association worked together over the past months to come up with a reduced funding level that will still cover the District’s most fundamental need — additional officer staffing.

“This is a really stripped-down version of the last levy,” said Larry Turin, volunteer association vice president.

Staff, board, and volunteer personnel who spoke with The Nugget last week all agreed that the current staffing level is unsustainable, putting far too much strain on Fire Chief Thad Olsen and Captain and Training Officer Jeremy Hall. The District board has mandated that there be officer supervision 24/7. The District has a solid cadre of volunteers, but all agree that they cannot be expected to take on a consistent role as supervising officers.

“There’s a lot of responsibility that goes with being an officer,” said Chief Olsen. “You basically have people’s lives in your hands.”

“We still have volunteer officers,” Turin noted, “but we won’t require them to sleep at the station.”

If passed, the levy will provide sufficient funding — an estimated $315,744 in 2022-23 — to pay for two additional officer and EMT-qualified staff, as well as adding three firefighter student scholarships, bringing the District’s cadre of students to six. Three of those students could be housed at the District’s North Station, reducing response times to that sector of the District.

The increased staffing is expected to relieve the unsustainable burden on existing staff, and significantly improve the District’s response time to incidents. The number of those incidents continues to grow. The District reports that its call volume increased 17 percent from 2020 to 2021, from 316 to 370 calls. That trend is expected to continue.

When first responders have to wait for volunteers to respond to the station, it can take eight to 12 minutes to get a unit out of the station, Chief Olsen reports. With increased staffing, that response time can be reduced to one to two minutes.

Captain Hall notes that minutes are critical.

In a fire, he said, “15 minutes, your house is gone. Three minutes, you’ve got a really good chance of saving it.”

Longtime volunteer Matt Cyrus noted that “it may improve everybody’s insurance rates, just by having the 24/7 staffing.”

That might be welcome news in a climate where insurers are casting a wary eye at properties that are threatened by wildfire (see related story, page 1).

Potential savings aside, all agreed with board member John Thomas that the primary purpose of the proposed staffing increase is to improve firefighter and public safety.

“This [levy] is actually the minimum viable product for a need that has existed for many years,” said Alan Smoke, volunteer association president.

While the May 2021 election turned contentious, those involved expect the revised levy to garner widespread support. The volunteer association has given the measure its unanimous stamp of approval.

“I was one of those that opposed the previous measure,” Cyrus said.

This time around, he said, he “will be encouraging support.”