MT ANGEL, Ore. — As fire season begins, many fire departments in Oregon are getting a financial boost to increase staffing during the summer months.
The Oregon State Fire Marshal invited fire departments to apply for one-time $35,000 grants to help increase staffing for fire season. So far, more than 160 agencies have applied for the grants, which cap out at $6 million. That funding comes from Senate Bill 762, which passed after Oregon's nightmarish 2020 fire season.
“We're going to be able to pay some of our volunteers and give our full-time people overtime to be able to staff this station during our most critical hours,” said Mt. Angel Fire District Chief Jim Trierweiler. “Our [fire season] apprehensions get a little bit higher each year.”
Mt. Angel is one of several rural agencies in Marion County. When called upon, the agencies all play a collective role in helping fight major fires across the Willamette Valley and beyond. It happened during the wildfires of September 2020; Chief Trierweiler helped coordinate that regional response.
“I think we were able to get about 20 to 30 pieces of equipment to dedicate to the Santiam Canyon Fire,” said Trierweiler, noting many rural agencies are run in part by volunteers. “We were running extremely tight on resources.”
During wildfire season, agencies like Mt. Angel still take care of people in their towns. Trierweiler said they get two to three calls a day for things like house fires, car accidents or medical emergencies. When they send a task force out of town, they want to be covered at home. This grant money is designed to help them do that.
“That has a ripple effect when you're headed out to cover a brush fire or different things like that,” said John Hendricks, public affairs specialist with the state fire marshal's office. He said over the last few years, there has been a decrease in volunteer firefighters within many fire departments.
“[The grants are] just temporary funding to get us through this fire season and test the waters so to speak to see if this is a model that will really have an impact,” said Hendricks.
Now more than ever, Chief Trierweiler said each response to every call is rooted firmly in one goal.
“Get on fires when they're small,” said Trierweiler, “and keep them small before they get to a conflagration.”