Letter to the Community
On November 15, 2022 a member of the Sauvie Island community lost their home due to a fire. The Sauvie Island Fire District along with Portland Fire and Rescue and Scappoose Fire District responded to the alarm. In our community, this incident is devastating because it happened to our family or our neighbor.
There have been a number of inquiries regarding the response time to this fire. From the time the first 911 call was received to when the first unit arrived on scene was 27 minutes. I am writing this, not to make excuses, but to provide some facts that lead to this length of time.
The Sauvie Island Fire District provides its services solely from people volunteering from in and around the community. About 57% of those volunteers live on the island and the others live off island, but within 14 miles of the fire station. When a 911 alarm comes to the Fire District, the members are notified within 60 seconds of the alarm. It takes time for the Fire District members to respond from where they are at, to the Fire Station. They may be at work and need to stop working before responding to the fire station or they may need to find someone to watch their children before responding or due to the age of some of the responders it’s just a slower process to get to the Fire Station, regardless if the volunteers live on or off the island and/or work off the island. Once at the Fire Station these folks must respond to where the emergency is happening. As you are aware, the Island is 32 square miles meaning it may take up to 30 minutes just to respond to an incident depending where on the Island it is. Normally it takes an average of 15 minutes from the fire station to the emergency scene. The Fire District has 22 trained firefighters of which 8 are Exterior Support Firefighters. The of the remaining 14 firefighters, 9 are off islanders. We are extremely fortunate that we have such a good opportunity for people wanting to volunteer who live off island.
The folks that do not live on the Island respond and cover the second, third or forth unit responding to the emergency. This is important as we often need the number of personnel to render care or mitigate the emergency called to. These folks volunteer to serve the Sauvie Island Community even though they do not live in the community. The Nation has been in a volunteer crisis for the last 20 year as volunteerism has plummeted and continues to do so. As with the volunteer attrition cycle, the Fire District has lost 7 members, but has been fortunate to gain 12 new members. The Sauvie Island Fire District does not discriminate against anyone whom wishes to help serve our community. This is why we not only accept individuals living off island wanting to help, we encourage their help providing they live close enough.
As mentioned above, Portland Fire & Rescue and Scappoose Fire District responded to mutual aid on the fire. It is wonderful to have neighbors that are willing to share their resources with our Island community, however we should not rely on their response to manage our emergency alarms. We are extremely grateful Portland and Scappoose are so willing to help and we help them when called as part of the “mutual” in the mutual aid. These agreements allow the community a greater availability of resources the few times they are needed without occurring the significant cost associated with these resources. One of the Fire District Officers communicated with our dispatch within 4 minutes of receiving the 911 call and requested the help from Scappoose Fire District and Portland Fire & Rescue. This same volunteer who lives on the island was working in Seattle WA when the alarm call came in. It still takes a while for these resources to come from off island to help.
The Fire District is continually looking at options to help reduce these response times, but with most everything, most solutions have costs associated with them. We have been actively seeking grant funding and been successful with a number grant to include monies for portable fire pumps, new replacement breathing pack cylinders, wildland firefighting protective equipment and firefighting equipment, a new fire engine (will not receive until the end of 2023), a new rescue boat, monies to build a new station on the east side of the island, and donated brush engine and fire engine. It is the vision of the Fire District to meet the health and safety needs of the residents and visitors of Sauvie Island. We shall be diligent in continuing to improve how we provide emergency services to the community, but in reality and as with all volunteer fire departments and districts, this problem has existed since their beginning.
In Service To You, Our Community,
Dave Kunkel, Chair - On Behalf of the Sauvie Island Fire District Board of Directors
Chris Lake, Fire Chief - On Behalf of the Volunteers of the SIFD