ROSBURG — Wahkiakum County Fire District 3 covers the western half of the county. Like many other rural volunteer fire districts, it operates on a tight budget. While volunteers might dream of new fire tenders and brush trucks, reality is a small fleet of used vehicles occasionally purchased from more affluent firefighting jurisdictions who are upgrading their equipment inventory.
“It takes a bit more to maintain such mature equipment,” FD3 Fire Chief Rob Maki said. “But don’t get me wrong. We’re not complaining about the situation. In fact, we take a certain amount of pride in what we are able to accomplish with the equipment we have. We have a great group of volunteers willing to give their time to provide fire protection to the citizens within the district’s jurisdiction.”
The current inventory of mobile firefighting equipment consists of three fire engines (a 1979 Ford, a 1979 Seagrave and a 1983 Darley), a 1973 International brush truck, a 1980 Mack Water Tanker, a 1990 Ford Rescue Vehicle, and a 1997 Stuart Stevenson 6 x 6 acquired from DNR that is being converted to a Tactical Tender.
“For quite some time, the leadership of FD3 has done its best to keep our burden on taxpayers as low as possible,” said Linda Strong, chairwoman of the governing board of fire commissioners. “While our levy could have been as high as $1 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation, we have been operating at 65 cents, less than two-thirds of the maximum. But the fact is costs keep going up every year.”
Looking ahead to the needs of the district, the fire commissioners decided to request a levy increase be placed on the November ballot. Voters will be asked to approve raising the levy to 72 cents per $1,000 valuation in the first year with an approximately 5 cent increase each year after that until the $1 per $1,000 level is reached. At that rate, a $1 levy would be reached in the sixth year.
Recently, the Washington Survey and Ratings Bureau (WSRB) awarded an improved fire protection rating to parts of the district. Other parts of the district still retain a lesser rating. This means residents in those areas are subject to higher fire insurance costs. WSRB wants to see hydrants within 600 feet of residential and commercial property and a responding fire station within five road miles.
“We’ve been discussing improvements needed to extend the improved fire protection rating to other areas in the district,” Strong said. “Additional hydrants are needed at different locations. We need to have a pole building, similar to the one on Salmon Creek, to house a piece of firefighting equipment out on Pillar Rock Road. This would put residents in that area within the five road mile standard of WSRB. If we are unable to make these kinds of improvements, we run the risk of receiving declining ratings from WSRB which could result in substantial increases is fire insurance for our residents. The amount an individual household would pay as a result of the requested levy increase pales in comparison to the kinds of insurance increases they could experience if our ratings are lowered.”
This would appear to be a valid concern. When the Grays River flood of 2007 caused the condemnation of the Grays River fire station, WSRB elected to increase the rating from 8 to 9 affecting residents in the area.
“Once they published their rating change, I was notified by my insurance company, a company I had been with for forty years, they intended to raise my annual insurance rate by $1,000,” Grays River resident Joel Fitts recalled.
“We will continue to do our best no matter the outcome on the levy,” Chief Maki said. “But it would sure be nice to get ahead of the curve. I hope voters will agree the benefits outweigh the cost and approve the levy increase.”