Fire Station 2 Safe for 2012; Future Unclear
By Ryan Broadhead
Imagine this scenario; you are shopping at a local grocery store like the Red Barn Natural Grocery in the Whiteaker neighborhood in Eugene, Ore. While shopping for groceries you feel a pain in your chest. You’re left side goes numb, sweat pours from your scalp, you can barely speak. All the symptoms are familiar; you’re having a heart attack. Clerks at the store rush to call 9-11. The facts are simple. The quicker the response, the better chance you have for survival.
For residents within the Whiteaker neighborhood, the general assumption would be that Fire Station 2 is located down the block. Once the call is placed, an alert goes out to the station and the ambulance that escorts the fire engines receives the message. The problem is, since the recent cutbacks to Fire Station 2, there is only one fire engine available to respond and the ambulance is out with the engine on call.
What happens next is a matter of time. Another ambulance and fire engine could be alerted from other stations. The engine and ambulance responding to an emergency out on River Road could attempt to rush to the scene. The hope is that they will reach you in time, but nobody knows for sure.
Firefighter and union representative Paul Highfill said in 2011, “It’s the difference between life and death. That’s your brain without oxygen, your house is on fire, anybody trapped in something they need to get out of, that four minutes could be life and death.”
Fire Station 2, located at 1725 West 2nd Avenue, is a station with a bull’s eye on its back. The Eugene city council has had the station in its crosshairs twice. In 2011, the Eugene city council voted to temporarily save the station from a company closure. In 2012 Fire Station 2 faced the same potential cutbacks.
Before discussing the on-going crisis with Fire Station 2, it’s imperative to outline a few important facts about Station 2 to further educate about the relevance of the situation. The Whiteaker Station serves the Whiteaker neighborhood, River Road and portions of Santa Clara. Fire Station 2 is also one of the biggest fire stations in Eugene.
According to the President of Union Firefighters Scott Olmos, in an interview in 2011, Olmos said, “Fire Station 2 is the second biggest fire company in the city of Eugene.”
Station 2 holds an engine company, a truck company, the District 2 Chief, plus Technical Rescue Team equipment and a reserve medic unit.
The situation at Fire Station 2 is complicated and at times can be confusing. Residents within the Whiteaker neighborhood do not even fully understand the situation.
Soren James, a grocery clerk at the Red Barn Natural Grocery for the past 11 years, had no idea of the situation facing Fire Station 2. After talking about the situation facing the Station, James said, “It would be terrible for all the residents of Eugene if they closed the station. It’s a gamble. You’d like to think that nothing will happen and everything will be fine but you never know.”
What exactly is a company closure? Does this mean Fire Station 2 is closing its doors? Fire station 2 houses two fire engines, each with its own crew. Back in July of 2011, the plan was to cut one of those companies in order to save on costs. The cuts would result in an expected annual savings of $317,000.
Fewer companies mean fewer bodies responding to emergencies. Six men make up the two fire engines at Station 2. The cuts would result in three men making up a single engine.
Access was denied when attempting to interview current Station 2 firefighters and Station 2 officials, but according to multiple reports from 2011, firefighters and union representatives took to the streets to protest and inform Whiteaker residents about the situation.
The fear within the firefighter community is that by cutting a fire engine and reducing the staff, the station will no longer be equipped to provide rapid response service to the multitude of calls into the station. The fear is that the community will suffer.
The Eugene city council voted to temporarily fund Station 2 in 2011. $3,000 from EWEB’s CILT funds was used to keep the station open. CILT is EWEB’s contribution instead of paying taxes to the city. The councilors voted in favor of keeping the station open by a 6-2 margin. The two opposing votes were from city Councilors George Brown and Patt Farr, whom summed up the situation as a long term problem.
Fast forward to 2012 and the same issue once again appeared on the docket for the Eugene city council. In a meeting held in May, “The city decided to maintain both fire engines for the year,” Mayor Kitty Piercy said.
Ward 4 City Councilor George Poling further expanded saying, “The Eugene city council budget committee recommended $317,000 to be transferred from other available sources to keep the second engine company at Fire Station 2 for at least another year.”
What happens next? Are the proposed cutbacks at Fire Station 2 something the Eugene city council will debate for years to come?
Poling said, “A lot of what happens moving forward depends on how much money that we are going to have to spend on general funds and how good of financial situation the city is going to be in. You can only dip into your reserves for so long.”
The situation moving forward seems to be a common theme facing many cities especially in a down economy. How do city officials determine what is necessary to cut and keep when facing an increasing burden of running a city with a dwindling budget?
Part of the steps being taken to aid in that burden is a partial merger of the Eugene fire department with the Springfield fire department.
Mayor Kitty Piercy said, “We have steadily been trying to maximize the dollars we have for the fire department. We will continue to move in that direction, but at the same time we do not receive enough federal reimbursement for the ambulance services. We are just stressed from trying to pay for that service that people need.”
Ambulances and fire engines respond to emergencies together. Most often paramedics are there for the extra pair of hands. When responding to an emergency, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Imagine this; you fall asleep one night and are awakened hours later by smoke creeping under your door. You feel the door handle and immediately flinch by the heat permeating off the handle. A fire has broken out in the rest of your house leaving you isolated in your bedroom. There is no window in your bedroom. There is no way out. Your only hope is the fire department, specifically Fire Station 2.
For residents of the Whiteaker neighborhood, River Road, and Santa Clara, the reality is that if Fire Station 2 faces cutbacks their response time will depend on how busy they are. Instead of 2 engines and six firefighters there is only 1 engine and 3 firefighters.
The reality may have been tempered once again in 2012, but that reality will again reappear in the future. It’s a reality that comes cloaked in the smoke from a fire. It’s a reality that grasps your chest as you wait for the ambulance on the floor of the Red Barn Natural Grocery. It’s a reality that residents should be aware of.