A recent award of a federal grant to the Pendleton Fire Department is good news for the community, but it also highlights the lingering challenge of finding enough emergency services personnel to safeguard our community.
The grant — called SAFER or Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response — will give local fire officials about $300,000 to address personnel shortfalls.
Interim Pendleton Fire Chief Jim Critchley said the grant will most likely be used to pay for a new slot to focus on recruiting and retaining new reserve firefighters.
Now, the fire department boasts 21 members. That seems like a lot for a small town like Pendleton but, in reality, it isn’t. A good case in point, Critchley pointed out recently, was the We Sell Stuff fire in late September. The big blaze gobbled up resources and 18 firefighters and paramedics, and eight more from outside departments helped douse the blaze.
The fire was eventually extinguished, but Critchley said the blaze might have been squashed earlier if more personnel were available.
That’s a significant fact and one city elected leaders should probably give more than passing attention to. The focus of the city’s leaders seems to be to create more taxes to beef up city streets. That isn’t a bad idea, though voters should always view new taxes — of any kind — with a healthy dose of skepticism.
The No. 1 task of local elected leaders should be to ensure two key agencies — the police and fire department — have enough resources, including personnel, to do their jobs. None of us like driving on rutted streets filled with potholes. But, then again, very few of us probably relish the idea of our fire and police personnel hamstrung by a lack of resources.
That is why the federal grant is such a good thing for our small community. Critchely’s idea to find more reserves — and thus cut down on overall costs — to help his department is a good idea, and he deserves to be commended.
The larger question, though, of whether the fire department has enough personnel to do its job effectively, remains somewhat murky. Spending tax dollars for public safety — whether it is police or fire — isn’t a bad idea under any circumstances. Our first responders are key. While paying a little extra for more fire and police may not seem attractive, it sure beats watching your house go up in flames because there are not enough fire personnel.