On a recent Sunday afternoon, the Dorena School Gym was filled with 200 community members attending the Row River Community Fire Meeting. Thanks for all who attended! The meeting was packed with information, latest updates, and progress thus far. We had a number of speakers including:
- Angela Kerns, Founder of the Child’s Way School. Angela and Mike have lived in the Row River Valley for many years. Angela related a story increasingly common in communities without an official fire district—loss or inability to get homeowner’s or business insurance. Angela has witnessed may fires in our community over the years and recounted her observations and experience with this summary:
“We support forming the Row River Fire District and know that a local department with fire engines, well equipped and trained volunteers will be on the ready in the event of a fire. We want to be able to tell neighbors, our students, and insurance companies that we are protected.
We want to know that everyone who lives in this valley is safe!”
Click here for full-text of Angela’s speech.
- Walt Bernard, President Row River Fire Response (RRFR), followed up on Angela’s observations with a discussion of how lack of Fire District services perpetuates community hardships, the challenges of a rural school closure to a community, including loss of available jobs, resulting in declining valley populations, as well as home values. Walt pointed out that the solution to this decline, known as a ‘Doom Loop’ comes from within our community offering multiple examples of solutions already present and working within our community at present. A Fire District that we create and operate is a locally based solution for our community, building success, cooperation, and resiliency while at the same time providing must needed emergency services.
Click to view full text of Walt’s comments.
- Chief John Wooten of South Lane Fire and Rescue (SLFR) updated the group on the first in Oregon, Public/Private partnership between SLFR/RRFR. RRFR and SLFR have been working together on this partnership which substantially improves services and safety to our community by combining our organizations: our community volunteers with SLFR experience, mentorship, training, and access to resources. This means when you call 911-the call will be directly routed to our emergency responders within our community and will substantially speed the process of fire response emergency for 2023 as a stop-gap transition to the district formation. Our 50 plus local community firefighter volunteers have already stepped up to be a part of the RRFR Auxiliary unit to protect our community. SLFR is working closely with RRFR to provide firefighting equipment, fire engines, a water tender, personal protective equipment, radios and other communication—all stationed right in our community for a quick response. Walt and Kris have offered their farm and a temporary ‘main station’ location where services and equipment can be locally based until the district station can be built.
- Chief Wooten and Division Chief Danny Solesbee then presented information regarding SLFR Fire Suppression Agreements. Over the past few years because the Row River valley had no fire protection services, SLFR created a program to offer Fire Suppression Agreements to those wanting the service in our valley. This is a common arrangement in rural areas or where a homeowner’s property lies outside a formally recognized district. The person wanting coverage essentially pays for the service under contract, just as any person whose home is within a formal fire district pays a portion of their property taxes for their fire coverage.
The SLFR/RRFR Auxiliary unit with therefore be able to automatically provide local fire response services to any homeowners who have Fire Protection Services with SLFR. This is a substantial improvement over the current SLFR only response, because our trained local RRFR Auxiliary Unit will be able to arrive on scene much quicker, followed by SLFR dispatching out of Cottage Grove. Since SLFR recognizes this advantage to response times and is budgeting the Fire Suppression Revenue received to support, train, and equip our volunteer RRFR Auxiliary Unit, they are offering to waive the $300.00 administration set-up fee for anyone requesting a new Fire Suppression Agreement until the end of July 31st, 2023. In addition, when the Row River Fire District is formed, SLFR will release all homeowners from their fire suppression contracts because at that point we will be paying into our own community owned and operated Row River Fire District.
We want to be very clear about an issue that comes up from time to time at our community meetings. One of the main reasons we want to form a fire district for our community is that so every home is included in our new Row River Fire District and has equal fire protection services. Once the District is formed, all homes and improved properties east of the Dorena Dam all the way east to the last home on Sharp’s Creek, Laying Creek, Bryce Creek, and all side roads along the way will be included in the district. By having all homes included this creates an inclusive situation that improves protection for all, reduces confusion, and enables all in our community to participate and provide input to the District we all own and operate. This is an ideal situation for all.
- Jim Stearns then gave a brief presentation about the benefits of Special Districts and what they are all about. What exactly is a Special District and how does it benefit our community? Jim explained that a Special District is a form of local government established to serve a specific community for a specific service, in our case, for fire response. A Special Rural Fire Protection District is owned and governed by the specific community that it serves. So, only those community members included in the district have a say on how the district is operated: they elect the board of directors, approve the budget, provide input on how the organization operates. In addition, there are substantial benefits for equipment and asset acquisition as a district, as well as lower costs for district insurance. The SDAO is a huge lobbying force in Oregon and represents all small special districts, whereas individual organizations might not be ‘as heard’. As members of the Special Districts Association of Oregon, we will be better situated to predict and adapt our organization to future changes in the fire response industry in the future.
Where are we now and what are the next steps?
Walt finished out the meeting summarizing all of the progress and achievements to date into a ‘next steps’ timeline to district formation. We expect to submit an application for the process of Special District Formation late July 2023. This application includes a number of requirements including:
- The name of our district: which will be the ‘Row River Fire District.’
- A description of the legal boundaries of our district. As stated above, all homes and improved properties in the boundaries will be included in the district.
- Economic Feasibility Studies including proposed budgets and tax assessments to support the district operations. The proposed budget is $150,000.00 annually that will be supported by a tax assessment of $2.4/1000 assessed value. This means that 75% of property owners will pay an average of $25.00 per month for local fire service, (renters do not pay). The budget money pays for things like phone service, diesel for fire trucks, office supplies, insurance. including insurance to protect our volunteer firefighters and other annual costs.
- Selection of main and satellite fire stations. Walt and Kris have offered to donate their large property next to the Dorena Church for a main Fire Station and Community Center. This location is ideally suited for a number of reasons as it is centrally located and will house fire engines, water tenders, and offices. We also are proposing 3 satellite stations, one on the north side of Dorena Lake, one on Shoreview, and one up near Laying Creek equipped with small type 6 brush trucks (like pickup trucks) for quick attack until our main engines can arrive on scene.
- Selection of Board members to oversee the district. The Row River Fire District is owned, operated, and overseen by our local community. As such we will need a local group of individuals to become board members of the district. Only residents or property owners of the district can be board members which ensures that we have control of our district. Please consider becoming a board member.
- Gathering Signatures. As soon as we receive preliminary application approval we will need to gather the required number of signatures to submit the final application. We estimate the minimum number of signatures needed at about 250. We will need our dedicated volunteers to help gather these signatures, likely in August 2023. To sign you must be a registered voter and live in the district so if you want a fire district, go ahead and get registered to vote soon so you are ready to sign.
- Developing Emergency Medical Response in coordination with SLFR. Our priority is establishment of fire response services as quickly as possible. Once fire response operations are established, we will begin training to add basic emergency medical response for our community. Currently we anticipate emergency services to be in place sometime in the winter 2023-2024–we will have more information as the process unfolds so stay tuned.
After we complete the signature phase, we will submit the completed application for Lane County and State Processing. This is a process that takes a few months and we will keep you updated however these are the important dates to remember:
- May 21, 2024 District vote to approve the Row River Fire District
- July 1, 2024 Date of official creation of the Row River Fire District-a new beginning for our community!!!
Thanks to all of our Board members, community volunteers, local firefighter responders and all the many community members coming together to change our community for the better. When we all work together for the common good:
That’s How Big Things Get Done!!!
Thanks so much for your input and participation!!
Want to help the cause?? Things you can do now to contribute:
- Tell your neighbor. They can check it out at:
- Encourage friends and neighbors to:
- Sign up for our newsletter
- Register to vote
- Take our survey at https://rowrivervalley.org/
- Attend community meetings
- Jennifer Ferraez, volunteer coordinator
- Many volunteer options available
- Consider a tax-deductible donation to Row River Fire Response
- Click on ‘donate’ at: https://rowrivervalley.org/
- Share our need for donations to your friends who visit, work, or recreate in our valley—they also benefit from our fire and emergency response.