BEND, Ore. -

At the Bend Fire Department, staffing levels have fallen below comparable Oregon agencies, and emergency response times don't meet national standards.

"We actually have less staff than we did six years ago, and yet our alarms are increasing," Bend Fire Chief Larry Langston said.

Langston said medical emergency calls are up 12 percent over the last 20 years.

But there's a way you can help.

"It will be the first time we've done this in the 100-year history of the department, that we've gone out for any additional taxes," Langston said.

The department is asking Bend voters to approve a five-year levy of 20 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

"The sheriff's levy and the library levy are expiring at the same time, which really, the impact is about $15 per year on a $200,000 home," Langston said.
 
The money would allow the department to hire more staff, which Langston said would cut their average response times from the nine-minute range to six minutes.

"If we can get on location a few minutes sooner, it can make all the difference in the world in some emergencies," Langston said.

The measure coincides with a rural fire district levy; 18 percent of Bend Fire's calls come from the surrounding area, where the department is contracted to provide fire and EMS coverage. Voters in that area are also voting on a levy, the same 20 cents per $1,000.

Ballots will be counted next Tuesday. They're due by 8 p.m. Remember, don't mail them too late -- postmarks don't count.