Levy, OSHA top of discussion for Fire Board

The Lebanon Fire District Board approved a referral for a local option levy for the May elections and heard a report regarding respiratory protection inspections during its Feb. 13 meeting.

The District will request a five-year levy of 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to improve services to the community. If approved by voters in May, the measure would begin July 1, 2024, and expire June 30, 2029. It would provide six more firefighter medic positions, and replace aging equipment and apparatus.

The proposed ballot verbiage states, “Without the new levy funding, the Fire District will need to cut back on its level of services to the community.” The District said it serves a population of more than 40,000 residents, and provides 134 square miles of fire protection and 419 square miles of ambulance service.

LFD Fire Chief Joseph Rodondi said at a campaign kick-off party on Jan. 11 that LFD needs nine more firefighter medic positions filled, but pared that number down to six to make it more digestible for voters. The 75-cent ask would cost homeowners approximately $150-300 per year (based on a home valued between $200,000 and $400,000). It would also help “round out” the fleet and, ultimately, improve response times.

The District’s permanent tax rate is $2.26 per $1,000 of assessed value. After the pandemic, the nation saw inflation rise dramatically, and costs to the LFD were no exception. The LFD is considered a “special district,” meaning it is not under the government of the city or the county, but operates as its own government. Rodondi said the federal government does not recognize special districts as possible recipients of certain grants and funding, further restricting access to needed funds.

On a separate agenda item, Rodondi addressed a hurdle the Special Districts Association of Oregon is tackling. SDAO is a lobbying and educational organization representing many special districts of Oregon, including the LFD. Its mission is to assist special service districts in providing cost-effective and efficient public services to Oregonians (learn more at www.sdao.com.

SDAO recently reported that OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) inspections related to respiratory protections and the inspection process of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) systems at fire agencies have increased substantially this past year, as have the penalty fines. Several agencies received citations for “failing to follow the manufacturer recommendations” for the SCBA inspection process. The SDAO asked OSHA for clarification on some points and reported they received a response back that “places a heavy burden on all districts but most notably on volunteer and districts with smaller staff.”

Among a handful of concerns during a recent appeal process, Rodondi said he questioned how OSHA determined the fine for penalties because “there’s no consistency across the state.” A central Oregon department was fined $185 while LFD was fined $2,625 for a similar violation type. State law requires departments to inspect an SCBA at a minimum of monthly and in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations which, for the MSA brand, is daily.

Rodondi learned that the SCBA brand they use (MSA, which he said is used by most departments in Linn County and across the state) is “more restrictive in their inspections” than other brands. Inspecting the SCBAs on a daily basis is not realistic for volunteer and partial-volunteer departments (like LFD), Rodondi said. Volunteers respond to an emergency from their home to their assigned station, he clarified for Lebanon Local.

“Having to stop and perform a 15 to 20 minute check on the SCBA is not realistic,” he said.

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He questioned OSHA and MSA about these procedures.

“MSA is at least recognizing that this could impact their pocketbook, that OSHA is putting their finger on the scales of pushing many fire districts to purchase other (less restrictive) products than their product,” Rodondi said.

If OSHA continues to over-penalize districts on matters pertaining to SCBAs, LFD must consider whether it should remove the gear from their fire engines at volunteer substations, which would prevent them from doing interior firefighting, he said.

“Taking such drastic action could have a significant impact on insurance rates in the community,” he said.

LFD and SDAO are continuing to meet with key local and state leaders on the matter to work out a reasonable solution, Rodondi said.

In other business, the board:

◆ Appointed Rodondi as budget officer and approved the budget calendar;

◆ Reviewed an updated policy regarding social media and dress code for fire personnel and board members;

◆ Reviewed the financial report;

◆ Heard from the Lebanon Professional Firefighters Union representative Jason Adamson, who said he’s excited about the levy that he deems is “completely fair;”

◆ Heard from firefighter Michael Perkins, who reported he was able to secure another volunteer for the Lacomb Station 32 site, as well as a part-time firefighter out of Jefferson;

◆ Heard from Rodondi who shared the administration and firefighting staff will begin moving into the new fire station;

◆ Heard about the District’s work as staff keep an eye on the Legislative Short Session this year. Rodondi reported that fire chiefs are not in favor of a potential wildfire tax that would be distributed 20% to the districts and 80% to the state. Also, PERS benefits might change, which could raise LFD’s budget expenses by about $100,000, Rodondi estimated. He also reported that federal legislature is beginning to recognize special districts, which down the road could lead to more funding opportunities through the federal government. Division Chief John Tacy reported the District is “keeping an eye on” an EMS modernization bill which is “really focused around data collection,” and a military licensing bill.