North county fire departments consider merger

Firefighters with North Lincoln Fire and Rescue would join Depoe Bay firemen in a proposed merger of districts. (Courtesy photo)

LINCOLN COUNTY — Two North County fire districts could have one chief and shared resources under a plan being discussed in the fire halls.

The boards of Depoe Bay Fire District and North Lincoln Fire and Rescue met last week to hear presentations from Chief Bill Johnson of Depoe Bay about the benefits of entering an agreement which could allow for a consolidation of the agencies and joint leadership.

Johnson presented a PowerPoint presentation on benefits of such joint efforts to the Depoe Bay Fire District Board on Feb. 12, and answered questions from the board and audience.

Also at the meeting were two members of the North Lincoln Fire and Rescue board, members and staff of both fire departments and members of the Lincoln County Professional Fire Fighters Local 5154 union — which represents the paid firefighters of Depoe Bay.

The union addressed the board about the potential ORS 190 Intergovernmental Agreement with three major concerns, though they are overall in favor of a merger.

Their greatest concern, however, holds them back from supporting this particular plan to merge: the union lacks confidence in Johnson’s ability to lead both agencies.

“Chief Johnson being appointed the chief of both agencies with this 190 plan would mean he would be taking on North Lincoln Fire,” said Ganz. “Which has roughly three times the amount of paid staff and volunteers, runs three times the amount of 911 calls for service and has a much larger complex budget.”

However, Ganz said that with the right leadership, a merger could be successful.

Another red flag for the union: the pace and timing of this agreement.

“Chief (Doug) Kerr of North Lincoln Fire is leaving at the end of the month and it felt like the boards were trying to push the 190 in the midst of appointing a new chief,” Local 5154 President Patrick Ganz said.

The boards also seemed to be moving ahead without consulting the workers it would affect, which can be a recipe for disaster, he explained.

“While there were discussions on what might happen with the 190 plan, neither the board or the chief came to the paid staff of either districts and asked if we were in favor of this 190,” said Ganz. “We have learned from past attempts at doing mergers of fire authorities in the county that you have to have everyone on board as these types of things can fail easily without a firm foundation.”

The Depoe Bay Fire District board decided to continue discussions with the North Lincoln Fire and Rescue Board, to which Johnson made the same presentation the next evening. The North Lincoln board also elected to continue discussions with Depoe Bay. A joint board meeting was scheduled for two weeks later.

As for the matter of who will take Kerr’s place, with his retirement date fast approaching, the board voted on whether to select EMS-division Chief Rob Dahlman to serve as interim chief. The motion passed with a single “nay” vote, from board member Danny Curler.

“Local 5154 feels that Chief Dahlman was undoubtedly the best choice,” said Ganz. “He has a vision and a defined plan for North Lincoln on how to make them an even better agency.  We've been really impressed with what we have seen from him thus far during his time at North Lincoln and feel that his vision and values are in line with not only the line staff's, but also what's best for both fire districts.”

The joint board workshop to further discuss cooperative efforts, which will be open to the public, is scheduled for 4 p.m. Feb. 27 at the St. Clair Fire Station in Lincoln City. The following day, a retirement celebration honoring Kerr will be held at the same station, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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