Capell said the city has been “very lucky” in some major fires, noting that if the March Trinity Episcopal Church arson fire had happened at 10 p.m., when stations were empty, “we could have burned down the entire block. But it happened in the middle of the night, when all the people were in station, so we got a lot of resources there quickly.”
“We haven’t had anyone come to council and say, my spouse or my kid died because you didn’t have enough staffing. It’s the one thing that scares me being on council. It’s going to happen one of these days – and it sort of just did. Because you talked about three stories this year when someone died, and they shouldn’t have. And it’s our fault – it’s our fault, and we have to find a solution to this.”
Colleague Jodie Barram echoed Langston’s points about the wide benefits of a strong fire department, from economic development and business recruitment to lower fire insurance rates for residents and businesses.
“It’s imperative that this council take action,” she said. “Knowing that there are property taxes that are expiring that makes this revenue-neutral, I think makes this very palatable to the voters.”
Councilor Victor Chudowsky noted a big education element he’d already experienced at some meetings, about how the vast majority of the department’s work involves medical calls, not fires.
“To most people, the chances of your house catching fire are fairly remote,” he said. “But In most of our lives, at some point, you’re going to need an ambulance.” And for voters weighing a money request, he said, talking about “shortening response times to a person having a cardiac arrest, I think chances of this are very good.”
Colleague Doug Knight weighed in in favor, as did Scott Ramsay: “I think we’re all in unison.”
As is the custom, Mayor Jim Clinton had the last word: “I always have felt the fire department and firefighters do an excellent job for the community under challenging circumstances.”
Clinton called it “unfortunate” that Bend has for decades had a relatively small property tax base of $2.80 per $1,000 “to do everything we have to do,” from police and fire to planning and roads, etc.
“We’re trying to be a real city here, and we shouldn’t try to ‘get by’ any more,” Clinton said. “I think that’s long passed as a viable strategy.” So he told the fire chief, “I think we’re ready to (put something on the ballot) as quickly as you are.”
The main deadline is to have a resolution passed by the council by their second February meeting.
“The sooner the better,” Langston said, already planning visits to the homeowners associations and Chamber of Commerce, among others. “We’re going to put our heart into helping the community understand these issues, and it’ll take time.”