Keizer fire chief Jeff Cowan (right) talks during the Sept. 17 Greater Gubser Neighborhood Association meeting. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

Keizer fire chief Jeff Cowan (right) talks during the Sept. 17 Greater Gubser Neighborhood Association meeting. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

Ambulances are meant to tow people in need of help to hospitals.

Ambulances are not meant to need a tow to a mechanic while a patient needs urgent care.

And yet that’s what the Keizer Fire District has been experiencing.

That is one of the key reasons the KFD is running an emergency equipment bond measure on the November ballot.

Fire chief Jeff Cowan has been busy talking about the measure, talking earlier this month at the West Keizer Neighborhood Association and the Greater Gubser Neighborhood Association meetings, among others.

To underscore the need for new equipment, promotional material put out by the KFD includes a picture of an ambulance being towed.

“The newest ambulance is one we got in 2008,” Cowan said at the Sept. 17 GGNA meeting. “It has been a lemon. It was in the shop for nine months last year. We had it fail twice on 911 calls.”

In 1996, Keizer voters approved a 20-year bond to pay for the KFD headquarters on Chemawa Road. That bond will be paid off in February, with the new bond taking its place if approved. The new bond is for fire trucks, ambulances and various emergency equipment and apparatus.

“Our staffing and service levels have improved,” Cowan said. “Now it’s all about the equipment. We’ve sacrificed equipment for people over the years, because people put out the fires.”

The KFD has 30 career firefighters and paramedics, plus 40 volunteers. Cowan said the personnel are kept busy.

“We’re averaging about 13 calls a day this year,” Cowan said. “Last year it was 12 calls a day. It could be 14 calls a day next year.”

With an average call for response being about two hours, Cowan said adding a second unit has been justified. An engine and an ambulance go to each call, meaning six personnel are on site in case people need to be moved.

“All of the calls put more miles on the ambulance,” Cowan said. “The engine will bounce from call to call. Some days it is gone 12 to 14 hours.”

Two ambulances have already been ordered, which means the fire district will pay itself back if the bond passes. The process had to be sped up due to the reliability issues of the current rig.

“We’re using operational money for the new ones,” Cowan said. “We couldn’t wait. It takes nine months for them to come. They are custom built. An ambulance is right around $250,000. The last one was built on a Ford F-450 chassis, so it’s not a truck grade chassis. It cost $180,000 and we figured we’d be able to rotate it. We went with Freightliner chassis for the new ones. You can put 500,000 miles on it over 10 to 15 years. It’s not really about the miles, it’s about the hours, the cold starts, idling for hours. Ambulances take a lot of wear and tear.”

Cowan said the average rate for the new bond will be $.14 per $1,000 of assessed value. The rate will go down as the population increases, with the bonds being issues in three phases. All told, the bonds will bring in about $6.2 million.

The KFD currently has two engines more than 20 years old, while the ladder truck – bought used from Salem – is 24 years old.

“This thing is 24 years old and has been like a battleship carrier,” Cowan said. “It’s a solid rig. We will have it refurbished for $500,000, one-third the cost of new, and it’ll be good for 15 years. It’ll have new electronics and equipment and will come back McNary blue.”

Other equipment to be purchased if the bond passes include Jaws of Life machines and life packs with EKG monitors.

Mark Caillier, GGNA president, was part of the group that came up with the recommendation for the bond.

“We appreciated that it was what they need, not necessarily what they want,” Caillier said. “We’ve done it in a phased approach to keep the dollars down. As the community improves and gets bigger, the rate will go down. They’re doing really well with what we provide them.”