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Rural Fire Protection May no Longer be a Choice
The seven-mile buffer will pit one Rural Fire Protection District against another

The year 2020 saw some of the worst wildfires in state history, and Senator Frederick (D–Portland) thinks that he has found a solution to protecting those rural areas of the state from fires in the future. He has introduced SB 605 which has moved through the Senate and has now had a hearing in the House Committee on Agricultural and Natural Resources.

Currently Under ORS 478.115, counties have the authority to determine the territory included in a rural fire protection district. Originally, SB 605 mandated that improved lands, or new improvements that were within seven road miles of a fire station must be annexed by the county. However, the Senate Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery Committee amended the measure so that it removed the mandate and replaced it with

“Upon request by a rural fire protection district, requires a county board (County Commissioners) to annex, into the district, lands that are either within seven road miles of a fire station in the district or that are brought within seven miles of a station by a new road, and that are not subject to district tax assessment”.

During hearings in the Senate, Senator Heard (R- Roseburg) asked if someone did not want to be annexed in and they needed services could they opt out and then be able to pay for the services they needed if they had an emergency? Fire Chief Bullock, from Douglas County District 2, responded to the question stating that “the challenge we have faced is that we have already had some of those people refusing to pay bills for services we already provided to them”.

The amended bill moved out of committee and to the full senate where it passed on a near party line vote. It was then assigned to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee where it received a hearing this week. During that hearing the bill received more opposition than it did in the Senate. Oregon Family Farm Association brough up a concern in written testimony that “SB 605 contains an arbitrary seven-mile buffer that in some parts of the state will pit one Rural Fire Protection District against another RFPD. While that may result in the best delivery of service to the property owner, the bill doesn’t exempt properties that are already served by an existing RFPD”.

Commissioner Craig Pope from Polk County, who himself spent 27 years a volunteer fire fighter and chairman of the board of one of the largest combination fire districts in the state, testified to the committee as well. He said that he is very supportive of “firefighters and the resources they need to do their jobs effectively and safely”. However, he is opposed to the bill because it removes public due process from the annexation process and forces County Commissioners into rubber stamping annexation which is currently not the practice. In addition, he was concerned that this was a Douglas County Fire district No. 2 issue that could end up being a burden for all of Oregon counties. He felt that the Association of Oregon Counties (AOC) could have a much more meaningful conversation than legislating it.

James Williams, Lake County Commissioner, also testified in opposition to the bill. He informed the committee that “the ISO rating for a landowners fire insurance is not affected by simply drawing a circle around a fire district. The ISO rating is still entirely based around boots on the ground, infrastructure and apparatus availability”. Rep. Marsh (D – Ashland) followed up on that line of questioning asking “where did the 7 miles came from it”. Chief Bullock stated that is it based on the parameters of the ISO. There are three levels of rating in the ISO.
  1. The insured location is within 5 road miles of a fire station and is 1,000 feet from a fire hydrant.
  2. The insured location is within 5 road miles of a fire station, but further than 1,000 feet from a fire hydrant.
  3. The insured location is further than 5 road miles of a fire station and 1,000 feet from a fire hydrant, but the firefighting organization meets the hauled water criteria. The boundary is then 7 miles from a fire station.
What is odd about the bill, is that neither the Senator or Representative from the Douglas County area signed on as a Chief Sponsor or regular sponsor to the bill. It was brought to the Committee by the Senator from Portland. However, the question was never asked in the Senate or the House why Senator Heard (R – Roseburg) or Representative Leif (R – Roseburg) did not bring the bill to the attention of the Legislature. In addition, if this was a Douglas County issue, as raised by Chief Bullock who requested the bill, then why did Tom Kress, Douglas County Commissioner testify against the bill?

The bill will remain in committee until the committee chooses to have a work session and vote. That must occur by May 28th or the bill is dead.


--Terese Humboldt

Post Date: 2021-05-07 10:37:56Last Update: 2021-05-07 10:49:40



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