After two levy failures, Marion County Fire District 1 will lay off a dozen staff, close stations

Marion County Fire District 1. (Courtesy/Marion County Fire District 1)

Residents served by Marion County Fire District No. 1 will have to wait longer for fire and emergency response and will see less firefighters show up to calls after two failed levies left the district with a $2.4 million budget shortfall.

Fire Chief Kyle McMann said the district is laying off 12 firefighter paramedics by the year’s end, bringing the staff that shows up to emergencies staff down to 30. The cuts will bring the minimum number of firefighters on shift each day down from 14 to eight.  

The battalion chief, who runs day-to-day operations, will also see their hours cut in half.

McMann said his heart sank when a levy that sought to tax 99 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value failed in May and another seeking 71 cents per $1,000 failed in November.

“In the fire service it takes people to respond to put out fires, help people in emergencies. Losing 30% of your revenue is heartbreaking. You know what time means to putting out a fire or getting somebody to the hospital,” McMann said.

He said it will lead to increased response times, up to 15 minutes on the fringes of the district’s coverage area, which spans 80 square miles outside Salem’s urban core. The district takes 8 and a half minutes on average to respond to calls. 

This year the district is on track to respond to 8,100 calls and will have to respond to the same or more next year, McMann said. The cuts mean they’ll have to do that with fewer people.

He said staffing at stations will decrease from five to three, so if those engines are tied up, the district will have to rely on help from neighboring fire departments.

“If you’re having a heart attack or a stoke, instead of sending five people or more there’s only going to be three people,” he said.

The fire district is also closing two stations, Macleay and Labish Center, which will become storage.

McMann said he’s been hoping to get enough volunteers to reopen those stations, but dwindling volunteerism makes that unlikely.

“In the future if we decide to sell them, repurpose them. Budget and lack of volunteers doesn’t look promising for the future,” he said.

McMann said he’s lost a lot of sleep since May. He said telling 12 people they would be without a job after Christmas was the low point of his career.

“Our mission doesn’t change. We will continue to provide the best fire and EMS services that we can,” McMann said. “We plan to meet all of our obligations. We will continue to look for efficiencies. Different ways of doing things, better ways of doing things. We’ll evaluate and we’re always open for questions, comments, suggestions.”

Related coverage: Marion County Fire District says to expect slower responses to emergencies if staffing cuts take hold

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected].

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